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North Korean table tennis players arrive in South Korea

July 15, 2018
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North Korea's table tennis players get into a bus upon their arrival at the Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea, Sunday, July 15, 2018. North Korean table tennis players arrived in South Korea on Sunday to compete in an international tournament amid an atmosphere of detente between the rivals. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean table tennis players arrived in South Korea on Sunday to compete in an international tournament amid an atmosphere of detente between the rivals.

The North’s 16 athletes will participate in the World Tour Platinum Korea Open that begins in the central city of Daejeon on Tuesday and continues through July 22.

South Korean officials have said players from the two Koreas may compete in combined teams in some events as a goodwill gesture. The Koreas have also agreed to field combined teams in some sports during the August Asian Games in Indonesia.

Sports diplomacy has played a large part in facilitating dialogue between the rivals in recent months following a period of animosity over the North’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent hundreds of athletes, artists and officials to February’s Winter Olympics in South Korea in part of effort to reach out to Seoul and Washington.

Kim has since met South Korean President Moon Jae-in twice and also President Donald Trump last month in Singapore to discuss ways to resolve the nuclear standoff.

Although the summits have produced vague promises to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, there are lingering doubts on whether Kim would ever agree to fully relinquish his nukes, which he may see as his strongest guarantee of survival.

Seoul says inter-Korean peace efforts are crucial because Kim wouldn’t give up his weapons unless he feels his security is assured.

Aside of sports exchanges, the Koreas recently agreed to hold new rounds of temporary reunions between aging relatives separated by their 1950-53 war, set up a liaison office and restore military communications lines that could defuse crises along their tense border.

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