WEATHER AUTHORITY : Severe Thunderstorm Watch - Severe Thunderstorm Warning View Alerts

Olympics diplomacy could solve the Korea crisis

Olympics diplomacy will get its day, even if it comes beneath the shadow of the North Korean nuclear program.T...

Posted: Jan 17, 2018 8:25 AM
Updated: Jan 17, 2018 8:25 AM

Olympics diplomacy will get its day, even if it comes beneath the shadow of the North Korean nuclear program.

This week, South and North Korean officials will meet in the truce village of Panmunjom for "working-level talks" to "work out details on the North's participation in next month's Winter Olympic Games," South Korea's unification ministry said Sunday.

Asked on Sunday evening about North Korea, US President Donald Trump noted: "the Olympics, you know about. A lot of things can happen."

Indeed, as military options are under consideration in Washington and beyond, sport is offering diplomacy a boost. And perhaps the opportunity for opening a dialog that goes well beyond next month's Games in the resort town of Pyeongchang.

At the very least, it is worth watching to see whether these talks can lead to more talks and perhaps a diplomatic engagement that builds upon itself. And as the talks get underway, they are informed by the experience of Seoul's summer 1988 Olympics three decades back.

As some who studied the 1988 Olympics have written, "The 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul represented a major missed opportunity." The North put forth a proposal to "share the Games between North and South Korea, with 50% held in Seoul, and 50% in Pyongyang."

In the end, after years of discussions and negotiations, no accommodation could be reached. The Seoul Olympics were a widely recognized public relations success for South Korea, laying the groundwork for a nation that has become an economic and internationally respected global player. The Wilson Center's Sergey Radchenko says that "left to lick their wounds, practically abandoned by their allies, and unable to negotiate with South Korea on anything approaching equal terms, the North Koreans sought assurance of survival in strengthening the role of the military, and in pursuing the nuclear deterrent."

Fast-forward from 1988 to 2018. Today diplomatic acrobatics have paved the way for North Korea's taekwondo demonstration team to make its way to Pyeongchang. In the first face-to-face one-on-one talks between South and North Korea in more than two years, held last week, North Korea said yes to sending a national delegation that includes "athletes, cheering and performing-arts squads, press and a 'high-level delegation'."

Whether this proves to be only a momentary cooling period between missile tests and heated verbal volleys or a longer lasting ratcheting down of tensions on the peninsula very much remains to be seen. Some analysts worry the North is aiming to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington. But as the US undersecretary for public diplomacy, Steve Goldstein, put it, "anything that lowers tensions is a positive development."

The Olympics and modern-day politics have long been intertwined, and if participation in the former can help lead to quieting tensions in the latter, it is to be welcomed. For even if that lowering of tensions is only temporary, it buys US policymakers time to consider and discuss options while speed skating and skiing grab the world's attention.

No question exists that South Korea wanted this outcome. Unlike 1988, South Korea's leaders this time around have been quite public in their desire to give dialog a chance. Seoul labeled this year's Winter Olympics the "peace games." And in exchange for Pyongyang agreeing to come to Pyeongchang, South Korea agreed to suspend, for a time, some of its sanctions in order to get the North Koreans to the Games.

"The hosting of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang has provided a brief window to ease Korean Peninsula tensions," Scott Snyder, senior fellow in Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote recently. "But South Korea's President Moon [Jae-in] still must find a way out of its constrained strategic environment and punch above his country's strategic weight in order to achieve long-term gains. To do so, Moon must translate the opening of a temporary channel for dialogue with Kim Jong Un's isolated regime and the accompanying momentary pause in North Korean nuclear and missile testing into a window for nuclear dialogue between the United States and North Korea, all while maintaining solidarity of the alliance with the United States on which South Korean security still depends."

For America, this means that US athletes will share an Olympic Games with North Koreans, citizens living under a regime that a recent report from the International Bar Association argued should be investigated for "crimes against humanity." Only recently, the UN's member nations passed a resolution condemning North Korea for "longstanding and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights."

But it is not human rights violations of North Korean citizens that are galvanizing the world when it comes to Pyongyang, but a nuclear threat facing the region and the United States. And that threat is going nowhere; indeed, Russian President Vladimir Putin praised North Korea's Kim Jong Un recently for having "won this round" and completing his "strategic task" of getting a nuclear weapon and "missiles of global reach."

Up against this backdrop of nuclear tests and heated Twitter exchanges between Washington and Pyongyang about "Rocket Man" and nuclear "buttons" falls the coming Winter Olympics. And many hope this time will be different from 1988. When talks between Seoul and Pyongyang eventually failed, terror took its place: The North Korean regime brought down a South Korean airliner, killing all 151 people on board.

"It was 1987 and South Korea was preparing to host the Olympic Games in Seoul. North Korea's leader Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il were determined to stop it," one of the crime's perpetrators told the BBC. "I was told by a senior officer that before the Seoul Olympics we would take down a South Korean airliner."

In 2018, unlike 1988, the outlines of a deal for some level of North Korean participation have been reached. More talks are ahead. And maybe this time will be different. While 1988's shutout of Pyongyang ended with North Korea's "humiliation and isolation," talks now could be the opening shot in a dialog that leads to, at the very least, more talks. No guarantees exist that this path will lead directly to discussion about denuclearization, but neither do contingency planning, sanctions enforcement or diplomacy cease in the interim.

North Korea has only two Winter Games medals in its history: Each came from speed skating. But the Olympic spirit is not about medals or wins. As Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern-day Olympics, put it, "The important thing in life is not to triumph, but to compete."

Perhaps this time the competition can confine itself to the ice. And the Pyeongchang opening ceremonies could serve as the opening to a crucial and much farther-reaching exchange of international dialog.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 16769

Reported Deaths: 803
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds107426
Madison76728
Lauderdale75968
Neshoba72844
Jones70133
Scott66312
Forrest59539
DeSoto57510
Rankin4569
Leake45212
Holmes44330
Copiah3294
Jackson31415
Attala31118
Yazoo2964
Newton2884
Lincoln28031
Leflore27736
Oktibbeha27314
Harrison2697
Monroe26925
Wayne2623
Lamar2505
Lowndes2479
Pearl River21231
Pike20411
Adams20316
Washington1987
Warren19610
Lee1948
Noxubee1936
Covington1792
Bolivar16911
Jasper1674
Clarke15619
Smith15511
Kemper15511
Lafayette1544
Chickasaw14014
Coahoma1314
Clay1254
Winston1241
Carroll11911
Marion1169
Claiborne1155
Lawrence1071
Grenada1074
Simpson1040
Yalobusha1046
Sunflower923
Tate911
Hancock9012
Union897
Itawamba897
Marshall873
Wilkinson859
Panola843
Montgomery841
Webster844
Jefferson Davis823
Tippah7611
Calhoun674
Amite661
Walthall640
Humphreys637
Tunica583
Prentiss533
Perry513
Choctaw502
Pontotoc473
Jefferson421
Tishomingo360
Greene331
Stone320
Quitman320
Tallahatchie301
George292
Franklin292
Alcorn191
Benton140
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 19073

Reported Deaths: 672
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2321118
Jefferson1901104
Montgomery185843
Tuscaloosa83616
Marshall7089
Franklin5858
Lee56234
Shelby52819
Tallapoosa43466
Butler42118
Walker3862
Elmore3749
Chambers36026
Madison3534
Unassigned3062
Morgan3021
Baldwin2939
Dallas2923
Lowndes26512
Etowah26312
DeKalb2573
Autauga2415
Coffee2391
Sumter2287
Houston2265
Bullock2176
Pike2120
Colbert1902
Hale1859
Russell1810
Barbour1771
Marengo1756
Lauderdale1722
Calhoun1673
Wilcox1577
Choctaw15310
Cullman1521
Clarke1492
St. Clair1351
Randolph1287
Dale1240
Marion12411
Pickens1205
Talladega1195
Limestone1080
Chilton1071
Greene954
Macon934
Winston910
Jackson833
Covington821
Henry822
Crenshaw783
Bibb761
Escambia753
Washington736
Blount631
Lawrence510
Monroe462
Geneva440
Perry430
Conecuh411
Coosa401
Cherokee383
Clay282
Lamar280
Fayette160
Cleburne151
Tupelo
Broken Clouds
92° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 102°
Columbus
Few Clouds
91° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 100°
Oxford
Broken Clouds
86° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 95°
Starkville
Scattered Clouds
90° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 96°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather