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Will North Koreans try to defect at the Olympics?

12 February 2018

On Friday night, the world will witness a truly extraordinary moment: An Olympics convening in South Korea with the participation of its nuclear rival, North Korea. Asia experts said Pence's sour conduct toward the North Koreans could be seen as disrespectful to the South Korean hosts, who were demonstrating a moment of harmony with the North.

On his flight to Alaska on Saturday, the vice president said he left Asia "encouraged that we will continue to work very closely to continue and intensify the maximum pressure campaign" against North Korea.

A man impersonating US President Donald Trump (R) and another impersonating Kim Jong-un pose in the stands during the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Pyeongchang Stadium on February 9, 2018.

The South Korean President has been seeking to maintain a dialogue mood between the two Koreas by making the PyeongChang Winter Olympics "a peace Olympic".

The conservative Dong-A Ilbo warned that South Korea may lose the trust of the United States and Japan as it courts North Korea for talks, and that the North, knowing that Seoul and Washington plan to resume war games in March, "may deploy a strategy of using the Moon Jae-in government as a shield from the United States".

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The younger Kim delivered the DPRK leader's message, saying the DPRK leader is willing to meet President Moon at an earliest possible date.

It said the two sides held "a comprehensive discussion. on the inter-Korean relations and various issues on the Korean peninsula in an amicable atmosphere", but did not say whether the North's weapons program was mentioned. The last time a Japanese prime minister visited North Korea was in 2004.

On Friday, he met with North Korean defectors and visited a memorial where the wreckage of a South Korean warship torpedoed by North Korea is displayed.

In South Korea for the start of the Winter Olympics Friday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met with defectors from North Korea - accompanied by the father of Otto Warmbier, an American who died after his release from captivity there past year.

On Wednesday, the North announced that Kim Yo Jong, the sister of dictator Kim Jong-un, would attend the games, joining the country's nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam. During the opening ceremony, the vice president sat next to Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but did not speak to Kim, who was seated behind them.

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Our reporter says attention is focused on whether the North will take action to hold dialogue with the USA over its nuclear development.

Pyongyang conducted its largest nuclear test a year ago and in November tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile that experts said has the range to reach anywhere in the United States.

During a stop in Japan on Thursday, Pence promised that the Trump administration "will soon unveil the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever". Already, there are concerns in other corners over how Moon's government has accommodated the North Korean delegation, even at the risk of violating global sanctions in place against Pyongyang.

Other members of the North Korean delegation present at Saturday's meeting included Ri Son Gwon, who led the first sit-down talks at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) earlier this year, and Choe Hwi. The senior US official said Pence was not trying to avoid the North Korean officials but rather ignore them.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have worsened over the past year, as North Korea has continued to develop its nuclear capabilities.

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Will North Koreans try to defect at the Olympics?