United States Vice President Mike Pence sat just feet apart from the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, but refused to interact.
It was in keeping with his determined effort to turn a cold shoulder to what he’s called North Korea’s “propaganda” around the games in South Korea.
Pence, who led the US delegation, was seated between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with Kim Yo Jong and Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s 90-year-old nominal head of state, seated a row behind.
The vice president came to Pyeongchang to cheer on American athletes but also keen to warn against falling for the glossy image of the two Koreas who marched in the opening ceremony under one flag.
After meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Pence said there should be no consideration of using the Games as an opening for substantive talks with the North until its nuclear program is up for negotiations.
Pence said the US would “demand at the outset of any new dialogue or negotiations that the Kim regime put denuclearisation on the table.”
He added: “Then and only then will the world community consider negotiating and making changes in the sanctions regime that’s placed on them today.”
At a reception before the ceremony, Pence and Kim Yong Nam were in the same room, according to Jarrod Agen, his deputy chief of staff, but Pence “did not come across the North Korean delegation” at the event.
Eager to put a reality check on the thaw in relations between the Koreas, Pence met with North Korean defectors on Thursday and paid his respects at the Cheonan Memorial in Pyeongtaek, which honours the 46 South Korean sailors killed in a 2010 torpedo attack blamed on the North.
Pence warned that the world would see “a charm offensive by North Korea”. “But today we thought it was important to make sure the truth is told,” he said.
Pence avoided public criticism of Moon, congratulating South Korea on hosting the Olympics but privately, officials said, he expressed concern about Moon’s more conciliatory tone toward North Korea.
Moon has embraced the Games as an opportunity for a thaw in tensions, calling them “Olympic Games of peace.” AP