International Olympic Committee chief arrives in Pyongyang

In this photo provided by the North Korean government on Saturday, March 31, 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, poses with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach for a photo during a meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea.

He expressed his willingness to make sure that the IOC would cooperate with North Korea in the long-term preparation for its participation in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and contribute to the development of sports in North Korea by proactively using the platform of worldwide sporting events.

Bach said Kim Jong Un supported a plan to have North Korean athletes compete in the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Winter Games. He is the first foreign official to meet Kim since the North Korean leader returned earlier this week from a summit in Beijing with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Most notably, Kim sent his younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, to the South to watch the opening ceremony and have talks with President Moon Jae-in.

"And this commitment was fully supported by the supreme leader", he said.

The IOC said in a statement Bach's visit is "part of the close cooperation and consultations the IOC enjoys with all of the 206 national Olympic committees".

In line with the decisions reached at the January 20 meeting, the North not only sent Olympic athletes but also a cheerleading squad and an arts troupe, easing military tensions and paving the way for inter-Korea talks. He called for further co-operation with the International Olympic Committee in developing winter sports and other sports activities in North Korea, the agency said.

Bach told Reuters during the February 9-25 Winter Olympics that he would make the visit on the North's invitation as part of an agreement between the International Olympic Committee and both North and South Korea. "He explained that sport is a pillar in his policy for the future development of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea". The meeting will take place ahead of an expected meeting between US President Donald Trump and Kim in May.

It was during that meeting that the two Koreas agreed to march as one team under the unified flag of the Korean Peninsula during the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games.

The exact reasons behind Kim's seeming change of tactics remain something of a mystery.

Raising the level of North Korean athletes has been high on Kim's agenda since he became leader.

Bach, who is German, competed in the Olympics for West Germany when the Germanys were still divided and says that gives him a special feeling for the Koreas.

  • Jon Douglas