Published at 6:02 p. M., Monday, January 8, 2018
TOKYO – Two people will be at the center of the inter-Korean talks scheduled for Tuesday, but they will not even be inside the "House of Peace" on the south side of the border between the two countries. They are Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik, the North Korean figure skating duo that South Korea looks forward to competing in the Winter Olympics next month.
Representatives of the two Koreas will sit in Panmunjom, the "truce town" in the middle of the demilitarized zone, at 10 am Seoul time on Tuesday for their first talks in more than two years.
The last time, in the summer of 2015, they tried to negotiate a peace agreement after North Korea's land mines severely wounded two South Korean soldiers, causing a sway that caused rumors of war.
They will speak on Tuesday on whether the North will send Ryom and Kim to the 2018 Winter Olympics, to be held in PyeongChang, just 40 miles south of the line separating the two Koreas, beginning on February 9.
And many officials in Seoul expect the talks to mark the beginning of a warmer chapter among the estranged Koreas, and perhaps even an opening to denuclearization negotiations.  "The two sides will concentrate on the Olympics," Cho Myoung-gyon, the unification minister of South Korea and the chief delegate of the talks, said on Monday. But, he added, "in discussing inter-Korean relations, the government will try to pose the problem of families devastated by war and ways to alleviate military tensions."
This could start with Ryom, who will turn 19 the week before, the games open, and Kim, 25. The couple trained in Montreal last summer and competed in Germany and Finland last year. For a performance, they even skated to an instrumental version of the Beatles song "A Day In The Life."
Qualified to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics, but North Korea missed the October 30 deadline to register them. However, both the International Olympic Committee and the South Korean authorities have made it clear that a remedy can be found.
The signs seem auspicious. North Korea's IOC representative, Chang Ung, on the way to Switzerland, told reporters in Beijing over the weekend that the couple would "probably participate" in the games.
North Korea boycotted the Summer Olympics in Seoul in 1988 – and in fact a South Korean passenger plane blew up, killing the 115 on board, in late 1987 to try to dissuade people from attending the games . But he has sent athletes to more recent meetings, including sporting events held in 2002 and 2003, during a period of warmer inter-Korean relations, and again in 2014.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who turned 34 on Monday, He has prided himself on his nuclear and missile progress over the past year. It has proven to be impervious to US and international sanctions.
But now, I could see an opening to cause a different kind of problems: by opening a gap between Seoul, where the government wants to change North Korea's relations through compromise, and Washington, where President Donald Trump urges at the "maximum pressure".