PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrived in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Friday to attend the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Earlier Friday, Pence traveled to the South Korean Navy’s 2nd Fleet Command in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, to visit a memorial for the South Korean warship Cheonan, which was sunk by an explosion blamed on the North. Nearly 50 sailors aboard the Cheonan were killed.
“Our objective here today is to stand with our allies. But is also to stand up for the truth. And to recognize that whatever images may emerge against the powerful backdrop and idealism of the Olympics, North Korea has to accept change,” Pence told reporters at the naval base before heading to the Olympic Games venue.
“They have to abandon their nuclear ambitions. They have to end the day of provocation and menacing. And frankly they have to end an appalling record of human rights that you heard first-hand today, the world community,” he added.
The vice president also met with North Korean defectors while in Pyeongtaek.
At the Olympics
U.S. officials have not ruled out the possibility that the vice president might meet a North Korean official at the Olympics. North Korean state media said Thursday there was no intention on the North Korean side for such talks to take place.
Pence said his team had not requested a meeting, but that if it did happen, he would continue his message that North Korea must entirely abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile efforts and will remain under pressure until it does so.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said South Korea sees hosting the Olympics as a way to improve diplomatic relations with North Korea. He has referred to the games as the “Olympic Games of peace.”
Ahead of the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, Pence, Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended a reception for about 200 dignitaries hosted by the South Korean president.
According to the vice president's office, Pence stopped by many tables at the reception, "but did not come across the North Korea delegation."
Vow to South Korea
On Thursday, Pence said in a meeting with Moon that Washington would “bring maximum pressure to bear on North Korea” until they abandon their nuclear weapons program.
Meeting with Moon at the Blue House in Seoul, Pence reaffirmed to longtime ally South Korea the U.S. commitment to economically and diplomatically isolate North Korea in order to achieve the goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
On Thursday, while in Japan, Pence stopped at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, where he gave a pointed speech against North Korea.
He said the United States will act with “vigilance and resolve” in the face of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile threats, and reiterated the Trump administration’s warning that while its seeks peace, “all options are on the table.”
About 54,000 personnel are stationed at the U.S. base. Pence toured the facility and met with Air Force Lt. Gen. Jerry Martinez, commander of U.S. Forces Japan. He also was briefed on the capabilities of the base if “diplomacy fails.”
Pence said North Korea has repeatedly responded to overtures from the world with broken promises and provocations. He highlighted his earlier announcement that the United States would continue to intensify what he called a “maximum pressure campaign” and keep it in place until North Korea abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
“We’re standing in a country that has literally seen ballistic missiles overfly their land twice in a single month. And they’ve seen multiple ballistic missiles land within their economic zone in the Sea of Japan,” Pence later told reporters.
“American forces, the Self-Defense Forces of Japan are ready for any eventuality. And we will continue to make it clear to all parties that the United States and our allies in this region stand ready at a moment’s notice to defend our people and defend our way of life,” he added.