RIGA, Latvia – Latvia will participate in next year’s PyeongChang Winter Olympics despite security concerns over North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction program, its president Raimonds Vejonis has confirmed.
In an interview with Korean media, the leader also confirmed his official visit to South Korea in February, timed to coincide with the sports event.
Latvian president Raimonds Vejonis (Yonhap)
“I will be the first Latvian president to visit your country,” Vejonis told a group of Korean reporters at the presidential office in Riga’s UNESCO-listed old town center.
Military tensions have risen on the Korean Peninsula as the reclusive communist regime, defying global warnings and sanctions, jockeys toward the finish line in its decadeslong push to develop atomic bombs and missiles that can carry them.
Pyeongchang, a scant 80 kilometers from the heavily-fortified border with the North, will host the Olympics Feb. 9-25. It will be the second Asian country to host the winter games after Japan held the event in 1972 and 1998.
Along with the president and athletes, prominent businesspeople representing Latvia’s key industries will also be defying security worries that seem to linger despite safety guarantees from the International Olympic Committee as well as the South Korean government, in the Baltic state’s first Korea foray since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1991.
“During the visit, I hope to further develop our political dialogue as well as to open up new possibilities (of bilateral cooperation) between Latvia and Korea,” Vejonis said. A Latvia-Korea business forum to link the two countries’ businesspeople is also in the works. A detailed schedule of the visit is yet to be finalized.
Vejonis also expressed hope that the current military tension would be defused through diplomatic efforts.
“Nuclear blackmailing is a problem for the whole world,” he said, adding that Latvia, as part of the international community, will help pressure North Korea to turn to diplomacy and dialogue.
As for the Olympics, the president said his country of 2 million is strong in winter sports and expects medals in at least four categories in Pyeongchang -- bobsleigh, skeleton, luge and biathlon.
“One of the most important competitions for us is skeleton, where our Martins Dukurs will compete with Yoon Seong-bin (of South Korea),” he said. “We hope they compete for the gold medal.”
Prior to taking presidency in July 2015, Vejonis was a defense minister, longtime member of the parliament and environmental minister. He introduced himself as the world’s first president hailing from the Green Party.
Seoul set up an embassy in Riga in 2013, while Riga opened its diplomatic mission in Seoul in 2015.
By Lee Sun-young (email@example.com)
Korea Herald correspondent