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North Korea could host some 2018 Winter Olympic events, Seoul says

Tens of thousands of North Koreans gather in 2013 at a rally in Pyongyang in support of a call from leader Kim Jong Un to carry out construction projects with what he dubbed “Masikryong Speed.” The catchphrase was named after Masik Pass in eastern North Korea, where soldiers were helping to build a ski resort as part of a push for more sporting facilities. (Jon Chol Jin/AP)

In about eight months, South Korea will host the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, about 40 miles from the demilitarized zone. The country may ask for a little help, too: from North Korea.

This week, the country's sports minister said that he'll ask to "utilize" North Korea's Masikryong, a ski resort about three hours from Pyongyang.* The complex, opened in 2014, offers 70 miles of slopes on a 4,000-foot mountain. Do Jong-hwan said he's also considering an inter-Korean women’s ice hockey team, an effort to make the 2018 Games a “peace Olympics,” he said.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to thaw lingering tensions as we try to bring North Korea on board,” Do told the Korea Herald.

Do said he'll discuss the plan with North Korea’s delegate to the International Olympic Committee, Jang Woong, and IOC President Thomas Bach later this month.

South Korea has also said that North Korean athletes who qualify for the Olympics (none have so far) will be able to travel through the DMZ to reach the event, something officials have described as a peace gesture.

The overture is part of a broader effort by South Korean President Moon Jae-in to engage with Pyongyang, particularly through sports.

The two countries have co-hosted several sporting exchanges this year, including a women's soccer tournament in Pyongyang and a women's hockey competition in South Korea. Afterward, the teams posed for photographs together. The north's taekwondo team will team up with South Korean athletes this weekend during the opening ceremony of the sport’s world championships in Muju, South Korea. Pyongyang also sent athletes to the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, an event that it has boycotted in the past.

Earlier this month, Moon suggested that the two countries apply to co-host the 2030 World Cup. “If the neighboring countries in northeast Asia, including North and South Korea, can host the World Cup together, it would help to create peace,” Moon said.

The countries considered co-hosting the 1988 Summer Olympics, but those plans fell through and North Korea boycotted the games.

But the suggestion will probably be panned by the United States, which has taken a very critical stance against North Korea in recent weeks. Last week, North Korea released American university student Otto Warmbier after he spent 17 months in prison. He returned to the U.S. in a coma and died days later.

The increase in tensions, along with North Korea's accelerated missile tests, have worried some international sports bodies, too. According to the New York Times, the International Judo Federation relocated its world junior championships to Croatia from Pyongyang because of the “alarming” political situation.

* UPDATE: We've updated this with a quote from South Korean officials.