World News

Pence Won’t Rule Out Meeting North Koreans at Olympics

Posted February 6, 2018 9:58 a.m. EST

HONG KONG — Vice President Mike Pence refused late Monday to rule out contact with North Korean officials when he attends the Winter Olympics in South Korea this week, saying, “I have not requested a meeting, but we’ll see what happens.”

The comments came as North Korean athletes, artists and officials were descending on South Korea for the Games in Pyeongchang. Among them is Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of North Korea’s Parliament, who serves as a nominal head of state and will lead a 22-member delegation of its officials making a rare visit to the South.

Speaking to reporters in Alaska during a stopover on his way to Japan and South Korea, Pence reiterated the administration’s stance that “all options are on the table” in confronting North Korea about its nuclear weapons and missile programs. He said part of the purpose of his visit was to tell “the truth about North Korea at every stop.”

“We’re traveling to the Olympics to make sure that North Korea doesn’t use the powerful symbolism and the backdrop of the Winter Olympics to paper over the truth about their regime,” he said, calling it “a regime that oppresses its own people, a regime that threatens nations around the world, a regime that continues its headlong rush to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.”

He added: “President Trump has said he always believes in talking, but I haven’t requested any meeting. But we’ll see what happens.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made strikingly similar remarks Monday during a visit to Peru. “With respect to the vice president’s trip to the Olympics and whether or not there would be an opportunity for any kind of a meeting with North Korea, I think we’ll just see,” Tillerson said.

In a diplomatic breakthrough, the two Koreas agreed to march together in the opening ceremony Friday and field a joint team in women’s hockey, the first ever inter-Korean Olympic team. President Moon Jae-in of South Korea is hoping North Korea’s participation will lead to a longer-lasting thaw in relations between the two.

But Pence’s potentially conciliatory comments came as North Korea used its state news media Tuesday to issue a series of caustic, personal attacks on Trump and his State of the Union speech last week, in which he assailed the North’s “reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons.” His comments came amid reports that the United States was considering a “bloody nose” strategy of a limited military strike on North Korea.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, warned the United States against taking such military action.

“Dolt-like Trump should know that his backbone would be broken, to say nothing of ‘bloody nose,’ and the empire of America would go to the hell and the short history of the U.S. would end forever, the moment he destroys even a single blade of grass on this land,” KCNA said.

Rodong Sinmun, a North Korean state newspaper, said the State of the Union address showed that Trump was “a lunatic.”