In this Oct. 30, 2017, file photo, the Olympic Rings, Winter Olympic Games' official mascots, white tiger Soohorang, left, for the Olympics, and black bear Bandabi for Paralympics, are placed at the Gyeongpodae beach, in Gangneung, South Korea.
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Relations between North Korea and South Korea — the powder keg that has threatened to ignite into a global nuclear war for months — have improved dramatically in recent days. The surprising source of this welcome breakthrough was the upcoming winter Olympics.
The games are set to begin in Pyeonchang, South Korea, next month. And now, thanks to a deal struck via diplomats negotiating in small huts at the demilitarized zone that has separated the countries since the halt of the 1950s Korean War, North Korea has agreed to send a delegation of athletes and spectators. South Korea has agreed to welcome them.
This will be the first time North Korea has participated in the winter games in eight years. For spectators around the world, scenes of athletes from both North and South Korea competing together will be heartwarming.
Even nicer than the heartwarming photo ops this will present is the opportunity for the Olympics to be a useful diplomatic tool. Afterall, Olympic legend tells us that the games originated when a Greek king was looking to halt endless war and conflict. When he consulted the oracle of Delphi, the oracle advised the king to create a peaceful sporting event.
For years, missile launches from the north, threats from all sides, and a lack of any direct talks have made the relationship between the two Koreas increasingly dangerous for both countries and the wider world.
The Olympic bargain made by North and South Korea provided helpful political cover for all sides to ratchet down tensions without losing face or appearing to back down.
North Korea can point to what it “gained” in the deal — the chance to send a delegation of athletes and spectators to the games — as a good trade off for dialing down its nuclear saber rattling.
South Korea can point to the deal as a way to assure North Korea will not disrupt the games. When Seoul hosted the 1988 summer Olympics, North Korea not only did not participate after talks to co-host the games collapsed, the rogue nation planted a bomb on a Korean Air passenger jet that killed 115 people.
The United States can point to the newfound cooperative tone and goodwill as a reason to ratchet down this country’s own bombastic rhetoric.
The Olympic truce struck at the North Korean/South Korean border is a gold medal bargain for all involved. Now it is up to diplomats from both countries and their neighbors and allies to advance the peace with meaningful dialogue that continues beyond the closing ceremonies.
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