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Still, it would be naive to say the Olympics as an event were the catalyst for diplomatic actions, says Mintaro Oba, a former U.S. State Department diplomat who focused on Korea. Rather, the event is just one of many convenient gatherings on a crowded international calendar ripe with diplomatic opportunities.

“The calendar is the diplomat’s chessboard,” Oba said to ATR. “How countries position themselves throughout the year often comes down to what’s on the schedule, what opportunities open up because of that, and how that sets up the next thing.

“Sporting events are a special part of the diplomatic chessboard because they are the only events that don’t usually condition participation on political participation, and there is a spirit of setting aside differences to appreciate athletic competition. The Olympics is the biggest opportunity in that category because practically the whole world is there.”

Oba believes that the attitude of the U.S. delegation to avoid meeting with the North Koreans may have created an opening for future talks. Diplomacy, like sport, is about picking your spots strategically, and the U.S. ceding the spotlight in PyeongChang allowed Moon’s administration to work on sussing out North Korea’s intentions.


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