Ivanka Trump, pictured on February 12, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Kevin Lamarque
Ivanka Trump, pictured on February 12, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Kevin Lamarque

US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and a hardline former North Korean general who has been blacklisted by Seoul will both attend the closing ceremony of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea on February 25, it emerged on Thursday.

The White House announced that Ms. Trump will lead a US delegation at the closing ceremony. South Korea’s Unification Ministry announced hours later that it had been notified of the details of a North Korean delegation’s visit to the same event.

Pyongyang’s delegation will be led by Kim Yong-chol, the country’s vice chairman of the Central Committee of the Wokers’ Party of Korea, and will include Ri Son-gwon, the ministerial-level chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, the South Korean ministry said.

Although his CV was not referenced in the ministry statement, Kim is a former general who formerly commanded North Korea’s extensive espionage and special operations assets and has been accused of deadly attacks on South Korea. This makes him a far grimmer character than the key figure North Korea deployed at the opening ceremony, Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, whose looks and grace prompted a rash of swooning media articles.

The ministry statement said: “We expect the high-level delegation’s participation in the closing ceremony… to help advance the process of settling peace on the Korean peninsula including the improvement of inter-Korean relations and denuclearization.”

However, another Korean government source said that any meeting between the two delegations looks unlikely.

Separately, Yonhap Newswire reported that Seoul’s foreign ministry is coordinating with the United States on whether to permit Kim, who is under sanctions, into the country. “Our basic stance is to stick to the overall frame of the global sanctions regime,” a ministry spokesman said, according to Yonhap. “Close consultation is under way with the US to make the North Korean delegation’s trip to the South take place under that frame.”

“Kim is a bad guy, not a good guy. The fact he is allowed into the country shows that the Moon administration disagrees with the findings of the conservative administrations; that is the only way to understand this.”

Assuming Kim is allowed into South Korea, he appears diametrically opposed – in gender, outlook and professional background – to his American opposite number.

Ivanka Trump, her father’s most glamorous senior advisor, is noted for her fashion choices and good looks – qualifications which hardly appear to qualify her for engaging in diplomatic duels with North Koreans. However, her delegation includes General Vincent Brooks, who heads the Korea-US Combined Forces Command and commands the 28,500 US troops in South Korea. Brooks seems a more appropriate counterpart to Kim.

General-ranked Kim formerly headed North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau,  a shadowy organization which oversees Pyongyang’s spies and commandos. In the South, he is believed to have been a key player behind the deadly sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan in 2010. Seoul claims that ship was sunk by torpedo fired by a North Korean mini-submarine; Pyongyang denies responsibility.

As a result, Kim was blacklisted by the conservative governments which preceded the current liberal administration of President Moon Jae-in in Seoul. Kim’s surprise deployment by Pyongyang was already sowing dissension in the South just hours after its announcement.

The conservative opposition, the Liberty Korea Party, protested the visit, dubbing the North’s decision to dispatch Kim “shameless” and calling it a “rare humiliation,” according to a statement carried by Yonhap.

“Kim is a bad guy, not a good guy,” said Go Myong-hyun, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Asan Institute, a think tank. “The fact he is allowed into the country shows that the Moon administration disagrees with the findings of the conservative administrations; that is the only way to understand this.”

FILE PHOTO: North Korea's general reconnaissance bureau head Kim Yong Chol speaks during an emergency briefing for diplomats basing in North Korea, in Pyongyang August 21, 2015, in this photo released by Kyodo. Mandatory credit REUTERS/Kyodo
North Korea’s general reconnaissance bureau head Kim Yong-chol speaks to diplomats in Pyongyang on August 21, 2015. Photo: Reuters / Kyodo

The information about the two delegations’ trips follows news broken by the Washington Post on Tuesday that US Vice President Mike Pence had – contrary to prior belief – been snubbed by the North Korean delegation, which included Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong, rather than vice versa.

Pence drew heavy flak in media and public discourse, both in Korea and internationally, for his apparently undiplomatic behavior during his Winter Olympic trip. Pence visited the wrecked hulk of the Cheonan, now a memorial to the 46 sailors who died; met North Korean defectors together with the father of US student Otto Warmbier, who died from the apparent after-effects of North Korean captivity; declined to stand for the march in by the inter-Korean team; and studiously ignored the North Korean VIPs during the opening ceremony.

However, according to the Post report, Pence had in fact been scheduled to meet the North Koreans the day after the opening ceremony – but it was the North Koreans who cancelled the meeting two hours before the appointed time, apparently in protest at Pence’s comments on sanctions against Pyongyang, and about the regime’s human rights record.

These various developments come as the Winter Games – dubbed “The Peace Olympics” by South Korea’s President Moon – draw to a close.

Moon has attempted to use the Games as a breathing space for talks to reduce tensions ahead of the spring season for South Korea-US military exercises, customarily the tensest time on the Korean Peninsula each year. Trump has followed Moon’s lead and even suggested he would be open to talks with North Korea. Moon has been rewarded by Pyongyang with an amicable visit from a high-profile North Korean delegation, and an invite to a summit with Kim Jong-un.

However, Moon has not yet responded to the offer – which places him in a tricky spot.

Washington insists that denuclearization must be part of any negotiations; Pyongyang has made clear that it is unwilling to discuss the issue. With Washington, Tokyo and much of the global community pressing a hard line of maximum pressure and extensive sanctions on North Korea, Moon would be heading into prevailing winds if he met Kim without the latter agreeing to discussions on substantive issues.

Although the Winter Games end on February 25, the Winter Paralympics commence on March 3, and end on March 18. Allied military drills are expected to commence soon, if not immediately, afterwards.