| USA TODAY
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — South Korea is footing the bill for hundreds of members of North Korea’s delegation to the Winter Olympics.
The South and North Exchange Cooperation Promotion Council agreed on Wednesday to use $2.64 million in South Korean government funds to pay for the North’s expenses while in Pyeongchang.
The funds will pay for members of an art troupe that performed in Seoul during the games, a cheering squad that has captured attention as they root for the unified Korea team and other lower level delegation members.
The International Olympics Committee is picking up the bill for 22 North Korean athletes that traveled to the games.
The delegation also included Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong. She met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of the Games.
Expenses for her and other high-level North Korean leaders will be paid from another stream of funding, South Korea’s unification ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told reporters. He did not specify where that money would come from.
Kim Yo Jong’s visit marked the first time since the two countries split after World War II that a member of the ruling Kim family visited the South.
“The Olympics have become a chance for the North to communicate with the international community,” the Olympics have become a chance for the North to communicate with the international community,” said South Korea’s unification minister Cho Myoung-gyon. “This could further pave the way for discussion to build and sustain peace on the peninsula.”
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South Korea picking up the North’s tab for the Winter Games is no small thing. The hermetic regime has been economically isolated from much of the world economy over its nuclear and ballistics missile program.
The North’s presence at the Pyeongchang Games was not assured until just a few weeks before the games opened. The IOC had openly spoken of doing everything it could to assure North Korea would be here, and South Korea agreed to share its women’s hockey roster and to walk in as one Korea for the opening ceremony.
Kim, who in the past has threatened to bomb the official residence of the South Korean president, praised the South upon the return to Pyongyang of his sister and other high-level members of the delegation, according to KCNA, the official North Korea news agency.
Ahead of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, the North Koreans bombed a Seoul-bound Korean commercial airliner, killing 115 aboard.
The Trump administration has dismissed the North’s charm offensive as a propaganda stunt.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters earlier this week that it was “too early to tell” if the Olympic thaw will lead to any substantive change in behavior by the North Korean regime.
The defense secretary noted that Kim made the provocative decision of holding a military parade highlighting Pyongyang’s ballistic missile capabilities on the eve of the Winter Game openings.
“That’s a very strange time if, in fact, he is trying to feel warming to the country that he has attacked repeatedly as an American puppet,” Mattis said.