North Korea to send nominal head of state to South Korea during Olympics

North Korea plans to send a high-ranking delegation — including its nominal head of state — to South Korea this week as part of its rare rapprochement with its southern neighbor during this month’s Winter Olympics in the South.

Kim Yong Nam, the head of North Korea’s parliament, is scheduled to visit South Korea from Feb. 9-11, the South’s Unification Ministry said in a statement Sunday. The North sent the message to the South via a cross-border communication channel.

Kim, 90, will be the highest-level North Korean official to visit South Korea since the North sent then-No. 2 Hwang Pyong So toward the end of the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.

The North Korean official will be joined by three other officials, according to the statement, but it’s unclear what their itinerary is.

Kim Yong Nam, the head of the North's parliament, will be the highest-level North Korean official to visit South Korea since the North sent then-No. 2 Hwang Pyong So at the close of the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.

Kim Yong Nam, the head of the North's parliament, will be the highest-level North Korean official to visit South Korea since the North sent then-No. 2 Hwang Pyong So at the close of the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Kim’s trip sparked speculation that direct contact between Pyongyang and Washington could be possible during the Olympics, as Vice President Mike Pence will be at the Games on the behalf of the U.S. starting Friday.

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North Korea dispatching a high-level delegation was part of agreements made by both countries last month regarding Olympic cooperation. The North, under the deals, is sending 22 athletes to the Games, who will parade together with South Korean team members under a single flag during Friday's opening ceremony.

Twelve of the North Korean athletes have formed the Koreas' first Olympic team in women's hockey, and the North is also to send a 230-member cheering group and a 140-person art troupe.

The Koreas' reconciliatory mood follows a year of heightened tensions over North Korea's advancing nuclear and missile programs. Some experts say the North may want to use its Olympic-related overture as a way to weaken U.S.-led international pressure and sanctions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.