(Reuters) - The International Olympic Committee (IOC) welcomed on Tuesday the possibility of North Korea competing at next month's Pyeongchang Games in South Korea and said the invitation remained open.
A spokesman said the IOC "welcomes the mutual intention" of the two governments to start direct talks about North Korean athletes participating in the Feb 9-25 Games.
"In this context, the IOC continues its discussions with the NOC (national Olympic committee) of DPRK (North Korea)," he added.
"To allow for such a participation in respect of the Olympic Charter, the IOC is keeping its invitation for a delegation of the NOC of DPRK open and will take the final decision in due time."
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un referred to the Games in a New Year's Day speech in which he also spoke of "mass-producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment".
"North Korea's participation in the Winter Games will be a good opportunity to showcase the national pride and we wish the Games will be a success," he said. "Officials from the two Koreas may urgently meet to discuss the possibility," he added.
South Korea has welcomed Kim's offer but U.S.-based experts saw Kim's speech as a clear attempt to divide Seoul from its main ally, the United States.
Washington has led an international campaign to pressure North Korea through sanctions to give up weapons programs aimed at developing nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States.
The Pyeongchang Games will take place just 80 km (50 miles) from the world's most heavily-armed border, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Neville Dalton)