TheDC Newsroom: Winter Olympics Are Heating Up

Frederick Owens
February 9, 2018

Pence met with President Moon Jae-in to advocate a clear-eyed approach toward his bellicose, nuclear-armed neighbor, warning against North Korean "propaganda" around the games.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Friday will visit a memorial for a South Korean warship torpedoed by North Korea before he attends the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, U.S. Embassy officials in Seoul said. Moon has looked to the games as an opportunity to pursue a diplomatic opening with the North - a move Pence cautioned against.

South Korean activists protested Thursday as a North Korean orchestra gave a sold-out performance on the eve of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

On the eve of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, the USA and South Korea vowed to work in tandem towards denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but delivered messages suggesting very different approaches in dealing with the threat of North Korea and its weapons development program. "That's promoting Kim Jong Un and North Korea's ideology".

"Our resolve to stand with you is unshakable", Pence said.

By placing an emphasis on its poor human rights record, Kim said, the U.S.is providing another reason for the worldwide community to apply pressure on North Korea.

Aides acknowledged that the vice-president's cynical message is an unusual one for Pence, but said the circumstances warrant the tone.

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Pence's trip has raised cautious expectations about possible U.S.

Earlier on Thursday, at Yokata Air Base in Japan, Pence said Washington would "continue to seize every opportunity" to ensure that North Korea does not use the Olympics to "paper over an appalling record of human rights and a pattern of developing weapons" that threaten the US and the region.

A group of 280 North Koreans arrived in South Korea on Wednesday, made up of a 229-member cheer squad, taekwondo performers, journalists and the sports minister.

But the North's KCNA news agency reported a senior foreign ministry official as saying: "We have never begged for dialogue with the USA nor in the future, too".

Despite the North's expressed lack of interest in meeting with Pence, the New York Times reported on February 6 that while speaking to reporters in Alaska during a stopover on his way to Japan and South Korea, the vice president did not rule out contact with North Korean officials when he attends the Olympics, saying, "I have not requested a meeting, but we'll see what happens". With determined rhetoric - and the promise of more "aggressive" economic sanctions against the North - Pence is looking to refocus American allies on the North Korean threat.

Kim Yo Jong was blacklisted a year ago by the U.S. Treasury Department over human rights abuses and censorship.

"As we speak, an estimated 100,000 North Korean citizens labor in modern-day gulags", Pence said. "Those who dare raise their voices in dissent are imprisoned, tortured and even murdered, and their children and grandchildren are routinely punished for their family's sins against the state".

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