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US Vice-President Mike Pence raises prospect of talks with North Korea

12 February 2018

Pence and South Korea's President Moon Jae-in agreed to pursue dialogue with North Korea during conversations at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, The Washington Post reported.

In a rare public moment, President Moon shook hands with Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of Kim Jong Un, at start of the opening ceremony.

North Korea is looking to use the opportunity of the Olympics to soften South Korea's attitude towards its northern neighbour and to find a way to bring South Korea to the negotiation table, thus weakening the US-Japan-South Korea trilateral cooperation which has been pressuring North Korea.

"I never thought I would visit (the South) so suddenly and believed much would be odd and different but I saw many things that were similar or the same", said Kim Yo Jong in a toast during Sunday's dinner, adding she hoped to meet the "friendly faces" before her later in Pyongyang.

"We should firmly keep in mind that any talks where denuclearisation is not a precondition only buy North Korea more time to complete its nuclear capabilities while they fool us with their peace offensive façade", said Chang Je-won, spokesman for the Liberty Korea Party.

Historic tensions between the divided Koreas have always involved the United States, though in recent years, the United States has stepped to the forefront of the conflict with the Kim dynasty.

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The North is a notoriously tough negotiator, adamant that it needs its "treasured sword" of nuclear weapons to defend itself against the threat of invasion by the United States, and will never give them up.

In dispatching the highest level of government officials the North has ever sent to the South, Kim Jong Un revealed a sense of urgency to break out of deep diplomatic isolation in the face of toughening sanctions over his nuclear program, analysts say.

Despite an apparent warming of relations between North and South Korea, undoubtedly expedited by sanctions further limiting North Korea's already struggling economy, there has been no sign of U.S./North Korean relations improving whatsoever.

Kim Yo Jong, 30, is an increasingly prominent figure in her brother's government and the first member of the North's ruling family to visit the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

He said the Koreas should create an environment so that a summit could take place. "I leave this trip encouraged that we will continue to work very closely to continue and intensify the maximum pressure campaign that is underway against the regime in Pyongyang".

Smiling and seemingly unfazed by cameras flashing during the airport meeting, Kim Yo Jong wore a black coat, matching ankle boots and carried a black purse.

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Athletes from South and North Korea marched behind the blue-and-white Korean unification flag at the opening ceremony on Friday.

Kim Yo-jong invited Moon to visit "at the early date possible", a spokesman for South Korea's Presidential Palace said. Pence told Moon the global community must not repeat the mistakes of the past by giving North Korea concessions in exchange for talking.

Wearing matching uniforms of red, the "army of beauties", as they have been dubbed in South Korea, performed perfectly synchronised routines and songs from the stands, much to the amusement of the crowds and press. The vice president also drew criticism from some openly gay members of Team USA, who questioned his role at the Olympics due to his anti-LGBT views.

Hundreds of anti-North Korea protesters scuffled with riot police hours not far from the main stadium before the opening ceremony was due to begin, with some of their banners reading "Moon regime is leading Korea to destruction". Moon's chief of staff held a farewell dinner for the delegation before the delegation attended a performance by a North Korean orchestra, the last item on their itinerary before heading home.

Pence said he would seek to counter North Korea's attempt to use the Olympics for propaganda and invited the father of Otto Warmbier, an American student who died previous year after being imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months, to the Games in Pyeongchang.

"I thought things would be unusual and very different, but I found a lot of things being similar", Kim said while proposing a toast at Sunday's dinner, according to Moon's office.

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Throw in there the accusations that South Korea has had to arrange huge payouts for past meetings, and that these earlier encounters, while producing indelible images, have done little to slow North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

US Vice-President Mike Pence raises prospect of talks with North Korea