TOKYO - Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday the United States will act with "vigilance and resolve" in the face of North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile threats, and he reiterated the Trump administration's warning that while it seeks peace, "all options are on the table."
He spoke to some of the 54,000 personnel at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo after touring the facility and meeting with Air Force Lt. Gen. Jerry Martinez, commander of U.S. Forces Japan, to be 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."
From Japan, Pence is traveling to South Korea, where he will hold talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and lead a delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Pence told reporters ahead of the meeting that he and Moon would reaffirm a commitment to economically and diplomatically isolate North Korea in order to achieve the goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
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 on Thursday said there was no intention on the North Korean side for such talks to take place.
Pence told reporters 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.
"The time has come for North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missiles ambitions, set aside this long pattern of deception and provocation, and then and only then can we begin to move forward to a peaceable outcome on the peninsula," he said.
Among those in the delegation North Korea is sending south are Kim Yong Nam, who is the ceremonial head of North Korea’s government and Kim Yo Jong, an influential sister of leader Kim Jong Un.
Others attending as official members of the U.S. 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.
Speaking after a meeting Wednesday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Pence said the U.S. pressure on North Korea will continue until it "abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile program once and for all."
The vice president provided no details on what sectors the sanctions would cover or when they would be announced.
Both Pence and Abe, at their meeting and then again in joint statements at the prime minister’s official residence, spoke of strengthening the military alliance between Japan and the United States amid the threat from North Korea.
"The United States is committed to provide Japan with additional cutting-edge defense systems, and our nations are now working together to deliver these new defense systems as quickly as possible," said Pence, who earlier in the day at the Japanese defense ministry watched a PAC-3 interceptor missile battery’s launcher raised to its firing position.
The Japanese leader said he and Pence had spent "a good amount of time" discussing North Korea and have "completely aligned" their policies about Pyongyang.
Abe added that North Korea continues to engage in provocative actions, noting an expected military parade in Pyongyang as the Winter Olympic Games get under way the same day in South Korea.
Both Abe and Pence expressed pessimism that a slight loosening in the tension between North and South Korea will last.
North Korea has been responsible for "a cycle of broken promises, willful deception, and escalating provocations," said Pence.
The vice president is on a multi-stop trip to Northeast Asia that includes leading the U.S. delegation at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
"We'll be there to cheer our athletes, but we'll also be there to stand with our allies and remind the world that North Korea is the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet," he said.