North Korean general and Ivanka Trump attend Olympic close

Seoul: A blacklisted North Korean general and the daughter of US President Donald Trump attended the Winter Olympics closing ceremony together Sunday, in the final piece of the Games-led diplomacy that has dominated headlines from Pyeongchang. Brief footage of the VIP enclosure at the arena showed South Korean President Moon Jae-in shaking hands first with Trump’s daughter Ivanka, and soon afterwards with North Korean General Kim Yong Chol — who reportedly expressed willingness to talk to Washington. A senior US administration official said there was no interaction between Ivanka, who was placed next to Moon’s wife, and Kim, who was in the row behind her — just two seats away from US General Vincent Brooks, who commands Washington’s forces in the South. Kim arrived at the head of an eight-member delegation that crossed the Demilitarized Zone Sunday morning, but his visit has sparked angry protests from conservatives as he is accused of masterminding past attacks on the South. The nuclear-armed North has gone on a charm offensive over the Games, sending athletes, cheerleaders and performers. Leader Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong attended the opening ceremony.

Moon had an hour-long meeting with Kim ahead of the closing ceremony, in which the North Korean delegation said Pyongyang was willing to talk to Washington, according to Seoul. The North — which carried out multiple missile tests last year, including those capable of reaching the US mainland — has long expressed its desire to talk to Washington without preconditions. But the US says it must first take concrete steps towards disarming. Kim Yo Jong had no interaction with US Vice President Mike Pence at the opening ceremony just over two weeks ago, even though they were just a few seats apart. According to the US, a planned meeting between the delegations from Washington and Pyongyang the following day was cancelled at short notice by the North Koreans. Washington imposed fresh sanctions on Friday, with Donald Trump describing them as the heaviest ever. Pyongyang denounced them on Sunday just as Moon was meeting Kim Yong Chol. Analysts say the North’s overtures to the South are intended to loosen sanctions imposed over its banned nuclear and missile programmes, and to weaken the alliance between Seoul and Washington. But Moon did not immediately accept an invitation passed on by Kim Yo Jong from her brother to a summit in Pyongyang, saying the right conditions must be created. And the athletes from North and South Korea carried their own national flags at Sunday’s closing ceremony, rather than the unification emblem they used at the opening ceremony. The US Treasury blacklisted 28 ships, 27 companies and one person, imposing an asset freeze and barring US citizens from dealing with them, in what Trump described as the “heaviest sanctions ever” levied on Pyongyang.