N. Korea says it’s not in­ter­ested in meet­ing US VP Pence

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - World -

NORTH Korea says it is not in­ter­ested in meet­ing US Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence while he is in South Korea for the Pyeongchang Olympics.

With Py­ongyang send­ing a se­nior del­e­ga­tion — in­clud­ing Kim Jong Un’s younger sis­ter — ru­mors had cir­cu­lated such a meet­ing could be in the works. A top For­eign Min­istry of­fi­cial seemed to rule that out in com­ments car­ried by the North’s state-run me­dia on Thurs­day.

“We have no in­ten­tion to meet with the US side dur­ing the stay in South Korea,” the of­fi­cial was quoted as say­ing. “We are not go­ing to use such a sports fes­ti­val as the Win­ter Olympics as a po­lit­i­cal lever. There is no need to do so.”

Pence was to ar­rive in South Korea from Ja­pan on Thurs­day and move to Pyeongchang on Fri­day.

Kim’s sis­ter, the first mem­ber of the North’s rul­ing fam­ily to ever visit South Korea, is ex­pected to come on Fri­day just ahead of the open­ing cer­e­mony. North Korea’s nom­i­nal head of state and se­nior states­man, 90-yearold Kim Yong Nam, is ex­pected to join her.

The mood has hardly been con­ducive to any Us-north Korea meet­ing de­spite the prox­im­ity in Pyeongchang.

Wash­ing­ton has been step­ping up its anti-py­ongyang rhetoric while North Korea has been try­ing to use the Olympics as an op­por­tu­nity to ease ten­sions with South Korea. Some see Py­ongyang’s con­cil­ia­tory ges­tures to­ward Seoul as a cal­cu­lated move to drive a wedge be­tween the US and its ally.

If that’s the case, it may al­ready be pay­ing off for Kim Jong Un.

In re­sponse to a North Korean re­quest, Seoul has agreed to post­pone an­nual mil­i­tary ma­neu­vers with the US un­til af­ter the games are over and has asked for some sanc­tions to be waived so that more contacts and ex­changes with the North can be made.

Pence, mean­while, is tak­ing a de­cid­edly hard-line ap­proach.

Be­fore de­part­ing for South Korea, he an­nounced the US would unveil in the com­ing days “the toughest and most ag­gres­sive round of eco­nomic sanc­tions on North Korea ever.” Py­ongyang is al­ready the sub­ject of wide-rang­ing sanc­tions and de­tails of what the US might tar­get next have yet to be an­nounced.

He is also bring­ing as his per­sonal guest Fred Warm­bier, the fa­ther of Otto Warm­bier, an Amer­i­can who died last year days af­ter his re­lease from cap­tiv­ity in North Korea.

The North has de­nied mis­treat­ing Otto Warm­bier, al­though what caused his death re­mains a mys­tery, and Pence’s de­ci­sion to bring his fa­ther to the games is sure to be seen in Py­ongyang as a very provoca­tive move.

Even so, Pence and other US of­fi­cials seemed to be open to the pos­si­bil­ity of a meet­ing, even if they were not ac­tively seek­ing one.

When asked by re­porters if he would be will­ing to have some sort of in­ter­ac­tion, Pence had said “we’ll see what hap­pens.” De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis told re­porters Wed­nes­day that Pence is “quite ca­pa­ble of mak­ing the call” on whether to meet with North Korean of­fi­cials at the Olympics.

With the North’s po­si­tion now of­fi­cial, he prob­a­bly won’t have to.

Photo: AP

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his sis­ter Kim Yo Jong, left, dur­ing their visit to a mil­i­tary unit in North Korea, 2015.

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