North Korea not interested in meeting Pence, U.S. officials during Olympics

North Korea has no intention of meeting U.S officials during the Winter Olympics that start on Friday, the KCNA news agency reported, dampening hopes the Games will help resolve a tense standoff over the North’s nuclear weapons programme.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who described North Korea as the world’s most tyrannical regime on Wednesday, flies in to South Korea on Thursday ahead of the opening ceremony in the mountain resort of Pyeongchang, just 80 kilometres from the heavily armed border with North Korea.

The ceremony will also be attended by a senior delegation of North Korean officials, including the younger sister of leader Kim Jong-un and the North’s nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam.

“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 U.S. during our visit to South Korea,” and no plans to use the Winter Olympics as a political vehicle, Cho said.

JAPAN-USA/PENCE

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence addresses members of U.S. military services and Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) before he departs for South Korea, at U.S. Air Force Yokota base in Fussa, on the outskirts of Tokyo, Japan, February 8, 2018. REUTERS/Toru Hanai – RC17FA11C040 (REUTERS)

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 U.S. President Donald Trump and Pyongyang have swapped nuclear threats.

North Korea marked the founding anniversary of its army with a large military parade in Pyongyang on Thursday, a government official told Reuters, having last month changed the date of the celebration to the eve of the Olympics.

The official asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. Domestic media reports said the parade was smaller than those of previous years.

North Korea Military Parade

In this image taken from video footage, North Korean military personnel lay flowers in front of giant statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il on Mansu Hill in central Pyongyang during a military parade on Thursday. (Associated Press)

Pence to bring father of dead U.S. prisoner

Speaking after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on his way to South Korea, Pence said Washington would soon unveil “the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever.”

The United States “will always seek peace, we will ever strive for a better future, but you the instruments of American power know and let our adversaries know all options are on the table,” he told an audience of U.S. troops at Yokota Airbase.

Olympics bring peace to Korea’s demilitarized zone7:24

Pence will meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul later on Thursday.

On Friday, before he attends the Olympic opening ceremony, he will visit a memorial for 46 South Korean sailors killed in 2010 in the sinking of a warship that Seoul blamed on a North Korean torpedo attack. Pence is taking the father of Otto Warmbier, an American student who died last year after being imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months.

Kim Yo Jong, the 28-year-old sister of the North Korean leader, will be sitting in the same stadium as VIP guests along with ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam. 

She will be the first member of the Kim family to cross the border into the South. Kim Yo Jong was blacklisted last year by the U.S. Treasury Department over alleged human rights abuses and censorship.

Japan’s Abe, whose nation has been within range of North Korean missiles for decades, will also attend the ceremony, adding to seating complications for hosts South Korea.

Koreas Olympics

In this April 13, 2017, photo, Kim Yo Jong, right, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, is pictured during the official opening of the Ryomyong residential area, a collection of more than a dozen apartment buildings, in Pyongyang. She is scheduled to be part of North Korea’s delegation at the Olympics. (Wong Maye-E/Associated Press)

South Korea asked the United Nations on Wednesday for an exemption to allow a UN-sanctioned North Korean official, Choe Hwi, to attend the opening ceremony with Kim Yo Jong.

Moon will meet members of North Korea’s Olympics delegation on Saturday, including North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, the Blue House said on Thursday.

Moon will also hold a lunch with the North Korean delegation, his spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told a media briefing.

A group of 280 North Koreans arrived in South Korea on Wednesday to support athletes from the two sides at the Games. 

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