Amid Olympic thaw, Pence says allies united in isolating North Korea

Frederick Owens
February 12, 2018

Kim has captivated media attention and fascinated the public since her arrival on Friday.

Her quietly friendly approach while in South Korea - photographers repeatedly captured her smiling - seemed to endear her to some observers. Hoping to discern what she's thinking, analysts pored over video of her eyes, and remarked on the tilt of her chin.

Kim, who is believed to be 30, was a natural choice for the trip to South Korea.

Kim Yo Jong claps next to Kim Yong Nam at the Switzerland v Korea women's hockey game on February 10, 2018. Kim Yo Jong is 28 years old, according to the US government.

A White House official described the South Korean president as hopeful that there would be "some talks and socializing" between Pence and the North Koreans over the course of the weekend.

Kim Yo Jong, 28, is the first member of the ruling Kim family bearing the bloodline of the sacred Mount Paektu, a centerpiece of the North's idolization and propaganda campaign, to cross the border into the South since the 1950-53 Korean War. But rather than presenting herself as a stiff party operative, she has looked engaged and interested during multiple outings in Seoul, Pyeongchang and Gangneung.

"This is the strongest action yet by North Korea to drive a wedge between the South and the United States", said Kim Sung-han, a former South Korean vice foreign minister and now a professor at Korea University in Seoul. Before now, she had been seen mainly in photos, but often in the background, as her brother took center stage.

Moon is desperate to use the games as an opportunity to restore regular communication with North Korea and eventually pull it into talks over resolving the global standoff over its nuclear program.

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One telling incident came early.

After sitting at a table, Kim Yo Jong placed a blue document folder in front of her.

During Saturday's meeting, the North Korean leader's sister, in her capacity as special envoy for her brother, invited the South Korean chief executive to visit the North.

The sight of North and South Koreans marching together for the first time in a decade was the culmination of months of work by Seoul.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who stoked anger and protests among his conservative supporters for attending the Olympics opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, sought to find common ground with South Korean President Moon Jae In.

A senior American member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) called on Sunday for North and South Korea's joint women's ice hockey team to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. After the game, the entire group walked around to the Koreans' bench to greet them and pose for photos.

"There is no daylight between the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan on the need to continue to isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically until they abandon their nuclear and ballistic missile programme", Pence told reporters during a flight to the United States following his visit to South Korea, where the Olympic games are being held. The result: a heady, sometimes surreal, state of affairs in a South Korea that has seen far more threat than charm out of the North. It's too early to tell (although skeptics are already shaking their heads at all of the above).

The North has sent almost 500 people to the Pyeongchang Games, including officials, athletes, artists and also a 230-member state-trained cheering group after the Koreas agreed to a series of conciliatory gestures for the games. It's anyone's guess as to when we might learn what's behind the facade.

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