North Korea withdraws from Tokyo Olympics

North Korea withdrew from the Tokyo Olympics due to the coronavirus pandemic, dashing Seoul’s hopes of using the event to improve inter-Korean relations and revive nuclear negotiations.

The decision to miss the Games due to start in July was taken by the North Korean Olympic committee on March 25, a website operated by the country’s sports ministry said, citing the need to protect its athletes from the health crisis. global.

The decision to step down coincides with the deterioration of inter-Korean relations, which have been strained by North Korea’s recent missile launches and a stalemate in nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.

Seoul’s unification ministry on Tuesday expressed regret over Pyongyang’s decision, saying it had hoped the Olympics would provide another chance to “foster peace and reconciliation between the two Koreas.”

North Korea participated in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator, sent a delegation led by his sister Kim Yo Jong, who was accompanied by hundreds of red-clad North Korean cheerleaders who captivated audiences worldwide.

At the Pyeongchang Olympics, athletes from both Koreas marched together under a unified flag during the opening ceremony and fielded their first combined Olympic women’s ice hockey team.

Olympic detente led to historic highs between Kim and then-US President Donald Trump, where the North Korean leader pledged to denuclearize his arsenal of weapons.

But discussions have stalled since. Kim has severed ties with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Washington has refused to ease sanctions against Pyongyang.

Kim has continued to develop nuclear weapon technology and has pushed back latest U.S. efforts to engage while the Biden administration completes a review to determine its policy in North Korea.

Analysts said a change in North Korea’s stance was unlikely in the near future as the pandemic, coupled with sanctions, flood damage and Kim’s economic policies, worsened. its economic woes.

North Korea insists it is coronavirus-free, but outside experts doubt this claim as the country has quarantined tens of thousands of people who have shown symptoms. Pyongyang has closed land, sea and air routes and restricted domestic travel, describing its anti-virus efforts as “a matter of national existence.”

“It’s hard to expect a breakthrough in inter-Korean relations and nuclear talks, as Biden is unlikely to lift sanctions as Kim continues to push for nuclear weapons,” Kim Jae said. chun, professor at Sogang University and former government adviser.

“North Korea is not Biden’s top priority although its economy is in terrible shape and it is unclear how long it will be able to withstand the situation.”

North Korea is the first country to pull out of Tokyo 2020, marking the latest setback for a Games hampered by allegations of corruption in the bid process, a sexism scandal that brought down its former president and a postponement of one year due to Covid-19.

Seiko Hashimoto, the director of Tokyo 2020, told national broadcaster NHK that she had learned of North Korea’s withdrawal from the morning news. “Neither the International Olympic Committee nor the Japanese Olympic Committee have been informed of a decision not to participate,” she said.

“Participation in the Olympic Games is at the invitation of the IOC. As an organizing committee, we are always working to provide safe and secure Games to every country that participates in it. “

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