Olympic petulance

THE Soviets will go to the Olympic Games in South Korea this summer. The North Koreans, as of now, will not go, because they were not selected to be a joint host. That adds up to a win for the Seoul government of President-elect Roh Tae Woo - although not necessarily for the Korean Peninsula. Getting the American and Soviet teams to the Games in Seoul is remarkable: The two nations have not faced each other in summer Olympics competition since Montreal in 1976. The US boycotted the 1980 Olympics as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviets retaliated by boycotting the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. Now, the two nations will once again go head to head in full athletic competition - reflecting the easing of tensions between them and, in particular, Mikhail Gorbachev's new policy of glasnost.

It is precisely because the two superpower rivals will be in attendance that North Korea's absence will be all the more visible. The Olympics were meant to unify nations, not drive them apart - to channel nationalist energies into sport, not divert them into militaristic rivalry.

South Korea continues to get its act together. One of Mr. Roh's main political opponents decided to meet with the President-elect, thus helping to legitimize, as it were, Roh's election. Moreover, Korea's foreign trade continues to grow; exports are now expected to jump close to 30 percent this quarter over exports in the first three months of last year.

Success carries special responsibilities. Seoul still should work out an accommodation with North Korea regarding the Olympics. Barring that, Seoul must take vigorous steps to protect its security during the Games. North Korea, finding itself more and more outdistanced by its kin to the south, would benefit by mustering up a little grace and goodwill of its own.

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