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Two Koreas Inflexible, but IOC Retains Hope for Olympic Compromise

May 28, 1987|RANDY HARVEY | Times Staff Writer

As an indication of the difficulty the International Olympic Committee faces in mediating negotiations between the two Koreas, officials from the South and North agree on virtually nothing, not even the sum of 2 + 2.

To save face after Seoul, South Korea, had been selected in 1981 by the IOC as the site of the 1988 Summer Olympics, North Korean officials issued an ultimatum. Either they would be named co-hosts of the Games, or they would lead a boycott of communist countries.

No one takes that threat very seriously at this point. Other communist countries continue to voice support of their ally's position, but only Cuba, Nicaragua and Ethiopia have indicated that they would join North Korea in a boycott over the issue.

Officials from East Germany, Hungary and Poland have announced they will send teams to the Games.

The Soviet Union and China have remained noncommittal, but both have sent athletes to South Korea within recent months for international competitions. Only South Korea and Japan sent larger teams than China to the Asian Games in Seoul last September.

"I am sure all the countries will come to Seoul except for one," IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch said at the close of the 92nd session this month in Istanbul, Turkey. "We are working to make sure that one also comes."

Last June, in keeping with Samaranch's efforts to reach an accord, South Korean Olympic officials offered North Korea the sports of archery and table tennis, as well as a preliminary round of soccer and part of a 100-kilometer cycling road race that would begin in the North, cross the border and end in the South.

To the South Koreans, two full sports plus two shared sports equals four.

But to the North Koreans, only the two full sports count.

No matter how it is figured, that still may not be enough for North Korean officials, who this week renewed their demand to organize no fewer than 8 of the 23 sports.

Samaranch said that the North Koreans will have to settle for less.

"I don't know what the North Koreans are asking for," he said. "I only know what we are offering to them--archery, table tennis and part of cycling and football. There can be very minor changes, but that's all."

At a news conference in Istanbul, Park Seh-jik, president of the Seoul Olympic Organizing Committee (SLOOC), was less compromising.

"The IOC and Seoul's proposal concerning North Korea's sharing of the Olympics was very generous," he said. "We will not make any more concessions."

Negotiations are scheduled to resume with a fourth and perhaps last set of talks between the two countries July 14-15 at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.

But as an example of his flexibility, Samaranch has extended the deadline for reaching a settlement. It originally was Sept. 17, which is when the IOC will issue invitations to countries for the Summer Games. Countries have four months to respond.

"It is a very important date, but not the last one," he said. "If we don't have an agreement, we will fight until the last minute."

But Park said it would be difficult to organize the Games unless the issue is resolved at least one year before the opening ceremony. The Games are scheduled for Sept. 17-Oct. 2.

"The talks should be concluded at the lastest by this September, exactly one year before the Games' opening," he said. "We need at least one year of time to prepare a perfect Olympics."

In an effort to speed the process, Samaranch sent a delegation, including IOC member Alexandru Siperco of Romania and two staff members from the Lausanne headquarters, to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang to confer with sports officials about their preparations for the Games. The delegation was due to arrive Wednesday.

According to a report last December by Reuters, the English news service, construction has begun on sites for three venues in Pyongyang. There also are several existing sports facilities in the city.

"Pyongyang is prepared for the Olympic Games," Korea Today, North Korea's official magazine, said.

Samaranch would like to verify that with his delegation's report.

Perhaps more significantly, he also proposed that the delegation travel to Seoul by way of Panmunjom, in the demilitarized zone.

South Korea gave permission for the delegation to cross there, but permission was denied by North Korean government officials. They said they would consider such a request when the larger issue of their participation in the Games was resolved.

Only in rare circumstances have the North Koreans allowed their border with South Korea to be crossed.

It is widely known that one of Samaranch's ambitions is to win the Nobel Peace Prize for the IOC, which he probably would deserve if he finds a solution to the Korean situation. It is an Olympian task. But the issue continues to frustrate him.

"If North Korea opens the border at Panmunjom, it will be a very good gesture, a good-will gesture," an optimistic Samaranch said in Istanbul. "This will be a test.

"The gesture to open the border will be very important for us and for the world."

But when the North Koreans informed Samaranch Tuesday that the delegation could not cross the border, he said their decision "is not very encouraging for the continuation of the negotiations."

One indication, however, that the North Koreans may compete in Seoul is their withdrawal from the recent East Asia qualifying tournament for soccer, rationalizing that they will receive an automatic berth in the Olympics as co-hosts of the Games.

It was a clever ploy, but the International Football Federation (FIFA) was not amused. FIFA banned the North Korean soccer team from the 1988 Summer Games.

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