South Korean President Moon Jae-In on on Sunday urged the International Olympic Committee to help North Korea participate in next year's Winter Games, saying it would contribute to regional and world peace.
Moon, who has advocated engagement with the isolated neighbour, has suggested that two Koreas form a joint team for the 2018 Winter Games, which the South is hosting in Pyeongchang.
The South and the nuclear-armed North are separated by one of the world's most heavily-armed borders and remain technically at war after the Korean War ended with armistice in 1953 instead of a peace treaty. Pyongyang boycotted the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
Organisers of Pyeongchang 2018 have urged Pyongyang to take part to make them a “peace Olympics”.
But no North Korean athletes have so far qualified for the Games, raising the prospect that none will attend.
An inter-Korea unified team could allow North Koreans to take part in team events such as ice hockey, while “wild cards” could enable them to bypass the qualification rules.
Meeting the IOC chief Thomas Bach in Seoul, Moon renewed his push for “sports diplomacy”, urging Bach's help to enable the North to take part.
“If North Korea participates, it will contribute not only to the Olympic spirit but also to regional and world peace as well as the harmony of humankind,” Moon's spokesman quoted him as saying.
“I hope that the Pyeongchang Olympics will become the Olympics of peace that could heal the pain of Koreans' division,” Moon was quoted as saying.
Bach's spokesman said the IOC chief and Moon agreed to “cooperate closely” on preparations for the Games, including potential participation by the North's athletes.
But in a statement the IOC did not go into details over how that might happen, referring only to unspecified “modalities”.
Bach said he “appreciates very much President Moon's vision of how the Olympic Games can support dialogue and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula and beyond”, it added.
The North's only IOC delegate has expressed doubt over Moon's proposal of a unified team, citing political tension between two Koreas and a lack of time.
Chang Ung said last week there was not enough time to reach an agreement with the Games only seven months away, and stressed “the political situation should be resolved first”.
Tension are high on the peninsula over the North's missile and nuclear weapons programmes, which have shown significant progress in recent years under leader Kim Jong-Un.