Mike Pence didn't snub North Koreans deliberately, officials say

Mike Pence didn't snub North Koreans deliberately, officials say

Saturday's meeting follows a brief encounter between the two parties at the opening ceremony on Friday, in which Moon twice shook hands with Kim Yo-jong.

The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is watching a joint Korean hockey team's historic first match against Switzerland at the Olympics with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

For all of Vice President Mike Pence's efforts to keep North Korea from stealing the show at the Winter Olympics, the images of the two Koreas marching together - and their officials shaking hands - at a time of heightened tensions on the peninsula proved impossible to counteract. Moon had said "let's create conditions to make it happen", the official said, an indication that Moon was likely to accept the invitation.

The officials, who spoke on condition because they were not authorized to discuss the US approach publicly, also denied that Pence had been blindsided by the seating arrangement - with the North Koreans in the row behind him, allowing Kim Yo Jong to be easily pictured in profile next to the vice president.

The invitation came during talks and a lunch Moon hosted with Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of the North Korean leader, at the presidential Blue House in Seoul.

Moon sees the Olympics as an opportunity to restore meaningful communication with North Korea after an extended diplomatic stalemate over its nuclear ambitions.

Speaking a year ago at his swearing-in ceremony, Moon said he would be willing to travel to Pyongyang "under the right conditions", adding that "for peace on the Korean Peninsula, I will do everything that I can do".

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But a bonus was the North Korean "army of beauties", or "cheerleaders" as they've been dubbed - a group of 230 women attending to cheer on the North Korean delegation at this year's Games. South Korean participants included senior officials Jeong Eui-yong, Jo Myong-gyoon and Im Jong-suk, the chief presidential secretary.

But North Korea's awful record on human rights and the growing threat from its nuclear weapons program appeared out of mind as Moon warmly greeted Kim Yo Jong, the sister of dictator Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Nam, the country's 90-year-old nominal head of state.

As for sharing Moon's box with the North Koreans, the officials said they knew in advance who was going to be in Moon's box to watch the opening ceremony.

The apparent thaw has not been reflected in Washington, however.

Pence, who is leading the US delegation to the Olympics, has accused Pyongyang of using the event for its own ends.

It's the final stop on a six-day trip that Pence had hoped would increase pressure on North Korea as it seeks to use the games to pursue an opening with the South. The Koreas could potentially talk about a South Korean special envoy meeting Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang or even a summit between Moon and Kim. Jo Yong Sam, department director general of North Korea's foreign ministry, said Thursday the country had never "begged the USA for dialogue" and wasn't about to start now.

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