South and North Korean skiers will train together at a major ski resort in the North this week as scheduled, as the U.S. has approved the cooperation project despite its sanctions on the nuclear-armed communist nation, the Ministry of Unification announced Wednesday.
The South's delegation will head to the Masikryong Ski Resort later in the day on a chartered jet and return to the South on Thursday, a ministry official said at a press briefing. It's comprised of 31 skiers and coaches, as well as about a dozen supporting staff and pool reporters.
The plane will carry some of the North's delegates to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics on its way back here, added the official. The Olympic Games are scheduled to open in the South's eastern town of PyeongChang on Feb. 9 for a 17-day run.
The plane will take off from the Yangyang International Airport in Gangwon Province bound for Kalma Airport in the North's eastern city of Wonsan.
The inter-Korean ski training was agreed to in talks between the two sides, but the confirmation of the exact schedule was delayed due to Seoul's consultations with Washington.
Last September, the Trump administration announced a set of sanctions that include banning vessels and aircraft that have visited North Korea from entering the U.S. within 180 days.
Seoul asked Washington to exempt the flight for the inter-Korean sports activity from the restrictions.
The South Korean government has stated that it won't hurt the international community's sanctions on the North in pushing for inter-Korean sports and cultural activities.
Critics said the Kim Jong-un regime is apparently seeking the relaxing of sanctions via participation in the upcoming PyeongChang games and pre-Olympics events.
Ministry officials said they are aware of the worries.
"We will consider the concerns and expectations of our people and closely cooperate with neighboring countries," Lee Joo-tae, director-general for inter-Korean exchange and cooperation at the ministry, told pool reporters shortly before departure from Yangyang.
He pointed out that inter-Korean relations are at a "very important" time and stressed the importance of the two Koreas respecting each other and implementing bilateral agreements.
On the itinerary in the North, Lee said his delegation will inspect the ski course on the first day, followed by alpine skiing/cross-country skiing friendly matches and a joint training Thursday.
Earlier this week, the North abruptly informed the South that it would call off a joint cultural event at Mount Kumgang slated for Feb. 4.
It appears to be displeased with news reports here critical of a plan to stage a military parade on the eve of the opening of the Olympics, according to officials and experts in Seoul.