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North Korean cheerleaders sing and wave prior to the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium on Feb. 9, 2018.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Organizing an Olympics is hard enough on its own.

South Korea, though, is hosting a Winter Games – and on Friday hosted an opening ceremony – attended by North Korea and the United States, two countries that have threatened to destroy each other.

South Korea's leadership invited North Korea to the Pyeongchang Olympics in hopes of averting disasters that could arise in its absence. Before the 1988 Seoul Olympics, North Korea blew up a jetliner.

But having the unpredictable and isolated state at the Pyeongchang Games has created its own tangle of complications, the latest of which is unfolding in view of a global audience on Friday.

Both U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence and Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un, were at the opening ceremony, and the presence of both at the same place has thrust organizers into a set of tricky dilemmas as they seek to avert a diplomatic incident on one of the world's largest stages.

Their task: arrange the opening ceremony in such a way that Pyongyang and Washington are both happy, without letting either overshadow a performance years in the making – a planned show of unity that sees North and South Korea enter the stadium together under a common flag.

Local media reports suggested planners had been plunged into a hair-pulling exercise as they tried to ensure that neither Mr. Pence nor Ms. Kim felt slighted. They also wanted to keep both sides from an uncomfortable chance encounter, after North Korea said it had no intention of meeting with U.S. officials. (The U.S. side has left more open the question of whether it is willing to meet.)

South Korean officials declined specific comment.

As for who was sitting where: "The final decision is made by the Blue House" – the Korean White House – "and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," said Yu Chaeyeon, a spokesperson with the local organizing committee.

The list of problems created by North Korea at the Pyeongchang Games has been long: how to house North Korean athletes (in segregated quarters), whether to give them gas money for the ferry that carried down their artists (not yet decided), whether to allow the playing of the North Korean anthem in a country that normally bans the tune (yes), whether to give their competitors free smartphones (yes, provided they're returned by the end of the Games), how to move an aircraft between two countries that have no regular flights (temporarily reinstate dormant air-traffic-control communication) and how to accept dignitaries subject to international sanctions (temporarily roll back those sanctions).

South Korea's leadership has taken pains to say it is only doing what needs to be done.

The government "has taken what it thought necessary and minimum measures to make sure of a successful hosting of the Games," foreign ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk said Thursday.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been accused of bending over backward on behalf of an autocratic regime. But Mr. Moon's administration was "desperate to gain the co-operation of North Korea in order to hold a successful Pyeongchang Games," said Cheong Seong-Chang, director of the Unification Strategy Studies Program at South Korea's Sejong Institute.

The stakes are high, given Kim Jong-un's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

"South Korea wants easing of tensions and dialogue with North Korea in order to prevent an outbreak of war due to misjudgment," Mr. Cheong said.

The alternative was an Olympics "not held in a peaceful environment," said Song Min-soon, a former South Korean foreign minister and national security adviser.

But the "exceptional measures" undertaken for the Olympics "apply only to the exceptional situation and the limited time" of the Games, he said.

As for the opening ceremony, planners were likely paying particular attention to stadium bottlenecks, "where you're walking down and maybe there's only one aisle that goes down to the main seating for the VVIPs," said Peter Selfridge, who served as chief of protocol in the Obama White House. Very, very important persons are typically heads of state, and the idea is to avoid unexpected encounters.

"I'm guessing that in addition to negotiating the levels for the seating, the two sides have negotiated the arrival times," he said. "They probably worked that out so there's no intersection at arrivals."

Usually, planners can count on dignitaries hoping to keep a low profile, although both Mr. Pence and Ms. Kim have courted the spotlight, each eager to frustrate the other's ambitions in the Korean Peninsula.

South Korea, however, has coveted a North Korean presence at the Olympics for a long time, and it's unlikely it was not prepared for this moment, said John Furlong, who was CEO of the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee.

"I suspect the plan for seating … was developed months ago as a scenario that might play out," he said. "Olympics are all about detail planning. I would be surprised if they did not have all the latest developments in the hopper. We would have."

With a report from Cynthia Yoo

Two of North Korea's most senior officials were sat directly behind South Korea's president during the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Games, which have provided some respite from the tense relations between the two countries.

Reuters