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Ivanka Trump heads to S. Korea amid speculation over N.K. contact

All Headlines 05:09 February 23, 2018

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (Yonhap) -- U.S. President Donald Trump's daughter, Ivanka, departed for South Korea Thursday to attend the closing of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics as speculation swirled over her possible contact with North Korean officials during the trip.

Ivanka Trump, who serves as a senior adviser to the president, will lead the U.S. delegation to Sunday's closing ceremony, and according to an airline official, boarded a Korean Air flight to Seoul earlier in the day.

Hours after the U.S. announced her visit Wednesday, North Korea said it would also send a high-level delegation headed by Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the central committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.

This image shows an EPA file photo of White House adviser Ivanka Trump and the logo of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. (Yonhap)

The White House said in its announcement that the first daughter plans to cheer American athletes competing in the Games and reaffirm the strength of the South Korea-U.S. alliance. She does not plan to meet with North Korean officials or defectors during her four-day stay, it said.

Still, the possibility of contact between Ivanka Trump and the North Korean delegation has been raised, especially after it was revealed that U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was to meet with North Korean officials after the Feb. 9 opening ceremony, until the North abruptly pulled out.

Trump is scheduled to have dinner with South Korean President Moon Jae-in Friday, which could be an opportunity to deliver a personal message from her father.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un invited Moon to visit Pyongyang through his younger sister, Yo-jong, who was part of the North Korean delegation to the opening ceremony.

The Olympics have created an opening for reconciliation between the Koreas after years of heightened tensions over the North's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Last year North Korea tested three intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S. as well as its sixth and most powerful nuclear weapon.

Seoul hopes the current mood will help Washington and Pyongyang resolve their standoff over the weapons programs.

"I am honored to lead the U.S. delegation to the closing ceremonies of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics," Ivanka Trump said in a statement Wednesday. "We look forward to congratulating Team USA and celebrating all that our athletes have achieved. Their talent, drive, grit and spirit embodies American excellence, and inspire us all."

The U.S. delegation also includes White House press secretary Sarah Sanders; Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces Korea; Sen. James Risch (R-ID), chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism; Marc Knapper, charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul; and Sgt. Shauna Rohbock, a former Olympic bobsledder and current member of the U.S. Army National Guard.

hague@yna.co.kr
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