SEOUL — North Korea said Monday that it will send a 140-member orchestra to South Korea as part of its delegation to the Winter Olympics next month, amid tentative but progressing talks between the estranged countries.
The agreement came at the latest meeting aimed at ensuring North Korea's participation at what the South has dubbed the "peace games" in PyeongChang next month — and also aimed at lowering tensions on the peninsula.
The orchestra will give performances in Seoul and in Gangneung, a city on the east coast where some of the Olympic events will be held, marking the first time in almost 16 years that a North Korean arts group has performed in the South.
"We believe that a great symphony will be enthusiastically received," Kwon Hyok Bong, director of the performing arts division of North Korea's Culture Ministry and a former leader of the official Unhasu Orchestra, said at the start of the talks.
"In that sense, we hope that the talks will go smoothly and help our art troupe perform well in the South," he said, according to pool reports from the talks, which took place on the northern side of the demilitarized zone.
Joining Kwon in the North Korean delegation was Hyon Song Wol, the leader of the Moranbong Band, an all-female musical group formed in 2012 under Kim Jong Un's direction. The women, with their short dresses and electric guitars, quickly became a sensation. But in recent years they have become more conventional.
Monday's talks were convened to start working on some of the logistical details following North Korea's agreement last week to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics, which will open Feb. 9 on the southern side of the DMZ.
The delegation will include athletes — still to be announced — as well as high-ranking officials, a cheering squad and a taekwondo demonstration group.
Monday's orchestra agreement was a way to bolster broader relations between the two Koreas as well as celebrate their "cultural homogeneity," according to South Korea's Unification Ministry, which is in charge of relations with the North.
The North will send an advance team to inspect the performance venues and stage arrangements "at an early date," a joint news release said.
North Korea wants the orchestra to cross the DMZ at the truce village of Panmunjom, near where the talks are being held, and South Korea has guaranteed safe passage.
Kwon named the musical group as the "Samjiyon Orchestra."
Samjiyon is an area near Mount Paekdu, the volcano that straddles the North Korean border with China and is the mythical home of the Korean people. The ruling Kim family claims a divine right to rule North Korea by saying they descended from this mountain.
The South Korean government has keenly wanted North Korea's participation in the Games, partly to reduce the chances that Kim might order some kind of provocation to overshadow them. It even persuaded the U.S. military to delay drills due to be held in March until after the Olympics are over.
But underscoring Pyongyang's fickleness, the North's official Korean Central News Agency issued a thinly veiled threat to call off the whole endeavor.
The regime was angry over South Korean President Moon Jae-in's assertion last week that President Trump deserved a "great deal" of the credit for creating the environment for the talks — as the American leader had previously claimed in a tweet.
"They should know that [the] train and bus carrying our delegation to the Olympics are still in Pyongyang," the KCNA reported Sunday, accusing Moon of trying to "curry favor with his discontented master."
"They should discard the impudent idea that someone will cook meals and feed them. One has to cook one's own meal," the report said, reaffirming the regime's assertion that the United States has no place in relations between the two Koreas.
Contradicting South Korea's hopes that the Olympic talks could be a gateway to nuclear negotiations, North Korea has made it very clear that it has no desire to talk about its weapons program as an inter-Korean matter — or, in fact, at all. Separately, at his golf course in Palm Beach, Fla., Trump was asked tro clarify remarks he made last week about his relationship with Kim.