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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol met with a visiting South Korean delegation in the DPRK capital on Thursday, the ROK press pool reported.
The meetings come amid a series of inter-Korean basketball games in Pyongyang, which North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has not been able to attend, according to Kim Yong Chol, due to his travel schedule.
Kim Yong Chol met five South Korean government officials, including Minister of Unification Cho Myoung-gyon, at 1020 local time at the Koryo Hotel.
The ROK side was reportedly informed of the meeting at the last minute, forcing Minister Cho to cancel plans to cheer on the South Korean women’s basketball team.
Despite Seoul on Wednesday saying it expected the North Korean leader to attend the match and meet the unification minister, the DPRK official during the meeting said Kim would likely not be able to visit the stadium.
“Our Chairman of the State Affairs Commission may not be able to watch today’s match as he currently makes his on-site inspection in a provincial area,” Kim Yong Chol was quoted as having said during the talks at the Koryo Hotel.
Kim Yong Chol serves as vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and director of the United Front Department of the WPK Central Committee.
He visited the South in February during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, and in June traveled to the U.S. to meet with President Donald Trump at the White House.
Speaking at a news conference following the meeting, unification minister Cho said the North Korean leader was spending the day in the Sinuiju region in the DPRK’s northwest.
State media on Sunday and Monday reported that Kim had spent much of the weekend in the area, visiting a cosmetic factory and a Chemical Fibre Mill.
Vice-chairman Kim Yong Chol told South Korean officials that the leader had asked him to meet them and convey his regret that he might not be able to attend the inter-Korean games.
North and South Korean women’s and men’s team on Thursday played two “goodwill” matches divided into “Team Blue” and “Team Red” at the 12,000-capacity Ryugyong Jong Ju Yong Gymnasium in Pyongyang.
Two Koreas yesterday held two mixed basketball matches, divided into “Team Peace” and “Team Prosperity.”
The DPRK leader reportedly watched the games on TV.
During the meeting, the vice-chairman said that the North Korean leader had insisted the South Korean side be allowed to bring broadcasting and audio equipment and to play K-pop during the game, as well as to be provided accommodation at the Koryo Hotel.
“The unification basketball matches take place with such special interest… This will be a remarkable event which can distinctly write a chapter in inter-Korean history,” Kim said, stressing that the games had been the North Korean leader’s idea.
During a press briefing following the meeting, unification minister Cho told pool reporters that Kim Yong Chol urged the two Koreas to hold talks “more pragmatically and swiftly.”
“[Kim Yong Chol] called on the South Korean side to actively implement the agreements in a more speedy manner,” Cho said.
“He added what is significant is to put efforts to achieve concrete and tangible results through the implementation, which South and North Korean residents can recognize.”
Kim Yong Chol also reportedly said the North’s hopes to continue inter-Korean exchanges in the sports field, suggesting that Pyongyang send athletes to the 2018 Korea Open table tennis tournament later in the month and the ISSF World Shooting Championships in August and September.
Both sides also shared a short conversation on an upcoming visit to Pyongyang by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday.
Kim Yong Chol told the unification minister he plans to meet with Pompeo tomorrow.
That Pompeo is visiting the North “is significant,” Kim reportedly said, “but Mr. Cho Myoung-gyon is important too.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Press Pool in Pyongyang