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Pence Intent on Countering North Korea’s Olympic Charm Offensive


FILE - Vice President Mike Pence waves before leaving for Japan, at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, , April 18, 2017.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is traveling to Northeast Asia on a trip meant to enhance his profile – he plans to visit as many as 10 countries this year -- and to counter North Korea’s charm offensive at the Winter Olympics.

The United States does not want to “allow the North Korean regime to hijack the messaging with their propaganda,” a White House official told reporters prior to Pence’s departure Monday.

The vice president, in Tokyo and Seoul this week, will seek to intensify what the U.S. administration calls the maximum pressure campaign against Pyongyang to get it to give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. This comes at a time of engagement between the two Koreas and reports of disagreement between Washington and Seoul on how to approach the North.

“We’ve seen charm offensives by the North before and they have not ever led to any sincere movement toward denuclearization,” according to a U.S. official.

FILE - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence shake hands prior to a luncheon hosted by Abe at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, April 18, 2017.
FILE - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence shake hands prior to a luncheon hosted by Abe at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, April 18, 2017.

After Pence receives a briefing on ballistic missile defense systems at an air base in Alaska during a re-fueling stop, he will continue on Air Force Two to Japan.

In Tokyo on Wednesday, he will get a briefing at the Defense Ministry and meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who will host a banquet dinner for Pence. The two are also to make a statement to reporters.

In Seoul on Thursday, Pence will hold talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, with whom he will dine.

Administration officials say Pence’s discussions with Abe and Moon will be substantive, part of a
pattern of the United States “remaining in extremely close contact” with allies about North Korea.

U.S. President Donald Trump spoke separately on the telephone with the Japanese and South Korean leaders on Friday, mainly discussing the situation with North Korea.

Hours later, in the Oval Office, Trump hosted eight escapees from North Korea.

Pence on Thursday attends, as the leader of the official U.S. government delegation, the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Others attending as official members of the delegation are Pence's wife, Karen Pence; Army General Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. and United Nations forces on the peninsula; Brooks’ predecessor, retired Army General James Thurman; House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce; Chargé d'Affaires ad interim at the U.S. embassy in Seoul Marc Knapper; and 2002 Olympic figure skating gold medal winner Sara Hughes.

Fred Warmbier, the father of Otto Warmbier, an American student who was jailed in North Korea and died last year after returning to the United States in a coma, will be Pence’s designated special guest at the opening ceremony.

The sight of Warmbier alongside Pence will serve to “remind the world of the atrocities that happen in North Korea,” according to a White House official.

FILE - Olympians hold a flag at an event in Times Square to celebrate 100 days from the start of the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea, in New York, Nov. 1, 2017.
FILE - Olympians hold a flag at an event in Times Square to celebrate 100 days from the start of the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea, in New York, Nov. 1, 2017.

The U.S. delegation will witness South and North Korean athletes marching together under a common flag, displaying an undivided Korea.

The two Koreas are to also have a joint women’s hockey team for the Games.

North Korea's ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong Nam, will lead Pyongyang’s high-level delegation to the event.

There is not expected to be any contact between the U.S. and North Korean government delegations.

“The vice president is certainly not seeking a meeting with the North Koreans,” says a White House official.

North and South Korea have no diplomatic ties and a state of war has technically persisted on the peninsula since a 1953 armistice brought to an end nearly three years of war that had the United States fighting alongside the South against communist forces backed by China and Russia.

The Trump administration has repeatedly vowed to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development, describing the programs as a serious threat to the security of the United States.

“This is a matter of supreme urgency to the whole world” affecting the stability of the region and the world more broadly, according to a White House official speaking on Monday.

Trump has belittled the North Korean leader as “little rocket man” and on Twitter boasted that his “nuclear button” is larger than Kim’s.

North Korea has responded with name calling of its own, labeling Trump “a lunatic old man.”

The Trump administration has repeatedly vowed to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development, describing the programs as a serious threat to the security of the United States.

Trump has belittled the North Korean leader as “little rocket man” and on Twitter boasted that his “nuclear button” is larger than Kim’s.

North Korea has responded with name-calling of its own, labeling Trump “a lunatic old man.”

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