April 3 (UPI) -- North Korea has signaled interest in sending its team to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
A senior North Korea official who accompanied North Korea hockey players to a tournament of the Women's World Championships to South Korea said North Korean athletes would "come to Pyeongchang," News 1 reported.
The team of 20 North Korea women athletes and 10 coaches and support staff arrived in the South after passing through Beijing on Saturday, Seoul's unification ministry said Monday.
Gangwon Province Gov. Choi Moon-soon said there may be a "great possibility" North Korea would stay good to the official's words.
Pyongyang has participated in the ice hockey tournament, a sign North Korea is willing to restart civic exchange with the South despite ongoing tensions, Choi said.
Lee Hee-beom, president and chief executive of the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee for the games, said the Winter Olympics should be carried out in the spirit of openness to all, "including to North Korea."
If North Korea does send teams, it would mark the first time a large delegation visits the South since the 2014 Incheon Asian Games.
Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University, told News 1 North Korea is signaling interest in improving relations with the next South Korea administration and making a "pre-emptive move" diplomatically.
Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said North Korea is seeking negotiations with the next government and looking to rehabilitate its image in South Korea.
Yang said North Korea might be looking to restart South Korean tourism to the Kumgang Mountains, a project that was suspended after 2008, when a North Korean guard shot and killed a South Korean tourist.
South Korea's unification ministry said Monday Seoul would allow North Korea to send its team to the South, as long as Pyongyang complies with relevant rules and procedures.
There are no international sanctions against civic exchange, the ministry said.