Prospects of a meeting between US and North Korean officials during the Winter Olympics dimmed further after the North’s official KCNA news agency, citing a senior official of the reclusive regime, reported that Pyongyang has no intention of meeting American officials during the Games, Reuters reports.
Seoul’s Ministry of Unification said on Wednesday North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, planned to visit South Korea as part of a high-level delegation to attend Friday’s opening ceremony of the Olympics in the alpine resort town of Pyeongchang.
The opening will also be attended by US Vice President Mike Pence, who vowed tough new sanctions against Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile programs on Wednesday and called it the world’s most tyrannical regime.
“We have never begged for dialogue with the United States and it will be the same going forward,” KCNA reported on Thursday, citing Cho Yong-sam, director-general of the North American department of North Korea’s foreign ministry.
“To be clear, we have no intention of meeting with the US during our visit to South Korea,” the report said.
Cho said the North Korean delegation’s visit to the Winter Olympics was only to celebrate the Games and that Pyongyang had no intention of using the Winter Olympics as a political vehicle.
Pence, speaking in Tokyo on his way to South Korea for the Games, said he will soon announce the stepped-up sanctions in an effort to pressure the North to abandon its nuclear and missile programs.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a tweet that the sanctions would be unveiled “in the coming weeks” and urged all countries to fully implement existing UN sanctions and to back the US pressure campaign by expelling North Korean “financial facilitators and trade reps”.
South Korea wants to use the event to re-engage with North Korea and open the way for talks to resolve one of the world’s most dangerous crises, in which US President Donald Trump and Pyongyang have swapped nuclear threats.
“I‘m announcing today the United States of America will soon unveil the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever,” Pence said after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“We will continue to isolate North Korea until it abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile program once and for all.”
Washington has led a global campaign to force North Korea to give up development of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the US and has taken a tougher line recently than its allies in Seoul, exposing tensions that South Korean President Moon Jae-in could struggle to conceal at the Olympics.
Pence has voiced skepticism that the North Korea will use the Games for crude propaganda. As his guest at the opening ceremony, he is taking the father of Otto Warmbier, an American student who died last year after being imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months.
Sitting in the same stadium as VIP guests will be Kim Yo-jong, 28-year-old sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and Kim Yong-nam, North Korea’s nominal head of state.
Japan’s Abe, whose nation has been within range of North Korean missiles for decades, will also attend the ceremony.
Bid to defuse tension
Kim Yo-jong would be the first member of the Kim family to cross the border to the South. She is a propaganda official and was blacklisted last year by the US Treasury Department over alleged human rights abuses and censorship.
“It shows the North’s resolve to defuse tension on the Korean peninsula,” Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told a news briefing.
Pence has not ruled out the prospect of meeting North Korean officials during the Games, but President Trump, whose daughter and adviser Ivanka will attend the Olympic closing ceremony, has cast doubt on the value of US talks with Pyongyang anytime soon.
“We will not allow North Korea to hide behind the Olympic banner the reality that they enslave their people and threaten the wider region,” Pence said.
The White House has also cautioned against reading too much into remarks Pence made en route to Japan.
Analysts said that while Seoul appeared keen to set up a US-North Korea meeting, the chances of this happening did not look high.
“The fact that the US is bringing along Otto Warmbier’s father suggests that their interest in engaging with the North Koreans while in Korea is pretty low,” Abraham Denmark, a senior defense official under former President Barack Obama, told a conference call organized by the Wilson Center think tank.
Washington has said repeatedly that any future talks with North Korea must have the aim of North Korea’s denuclearization, something Pyongyang has rejected.
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