Russian hackers attacked South Korean government computers during the Winter Olympics, but made it look like the attack was carried out by the North, US intelligence agencies believe.
As the Pyeongchang games came to a close on Sunday, watched by US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and North Korea’s blacklisted military general Kim Yong-chol, US newspapers reported that Russia had carried out the cyber attack in revenge for being excluded from competing following accusations of doping.
During the Opening Ceremony, Russian hackers operating from the GRU – the Russian military intelligence agency – allegedly masked their IP addresses to make it look like their hack had come from North Korea.
Officials in Pyeongchang acknowledged that the games were hit by a cyber attack during the February 9 Opening Ceremonies, but had refused to confirm whether Russia was responsible.
There were disruptions to the internet, broadcast systems and the Olympics website. Many attendees were unable to print their tickets for the ceremony, resulting in empty seats.
After sending athletes, cheerleaders and Kim Jong-un’s own sister to Pyeongchang in an unprecedented diplomatic thaw, North Korea’s delegation to the South also expressed willingness to talk to Washington yesterday/SUNDAY.
Not everyone was convinced by the North’s overtures, however.
The North Korean delegation led by Kim Yong-chol, head of the Workers’ Party United Front Department and the man accused by Seoul’s intelligence agency of masterminding a deadly 2010 attack on a South Korean warship, was met by protesters, who attempted to block vehicles from reaching the ceremony as the convoy crossed the Demilitarised Zone.
Around 100 conservative politicians and activists staged a sit-in demonstration at the Tongil Bridge, according to local broadcaster YTN, with the South Korean authorities deploying more than 2,500 police officers to control the protests.
To avoid a clash, the North Korean motorcade took an alternative route after crossing the DMZ.
The South’s opposition Korea Liberty Party accused the government of “abuse of power and an act of treason” for shielding the North Korean vehicles from the protest.
On arrival at the ceremony, Ms Trump and Mr Kim did not speak.
But South Korea issued a statement saying that South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with a delegation from the North shortly before the closing ceremony, and the North expressed willingness to engage in a dialogue with the US.
The North has "ample intentions of holding talks with the United States," Moon’s office said in a statement. The North’s delegation also agreed that "South-North relations and US-North Korean relations should be improved together," the statement said.
The White House gave lukewarm support to the idea, saying that talks would only begin if it was clear they would lead to “the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who attended the games as a member of the US delegation, said "we will see".
Ms Sanders said Mr Trump remained committed to achieving the "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization" of the peninsula and that his "maximum pressure campaign" against North Korea must continue until it abandons its nuclear and missile programs.
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Ms Sanders said the US, South Korea and the international community "broadly agree" that denuclearization must be the outcome of any dialogue with North Korea. She said North Korea has a bright path ahead if it chooses to comply.
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"We will see if Pyongyang’s message today, that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization," she said in a written statement. "In the meantime, the United States and the world must continue to make clear that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are a dead end."
Mr Trump once scolded Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who favors diplomacy with North Korea, for "wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man," Mr Trump’s derisive nickname for North Korea’s leader.
Last week it emerged that Mike Pence, the vice president, was on the verge of meeting representatives of North Korea on the sidelines of the games.
Mr Pence’s office said later that a potential meeting between the two sides was scratched at the last minute by the North Koreans after Mr Pence condemned human rights violations, and new economic sanctions were announced.