PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said in a meeting Thursday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in that Washington would “bring maximum pressure to bear on North Korea” until it abandons its 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.
Later Friday, Pence arrived in Pyeongchang to lead the U.S. delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympics. Before leaving for the Olympics venue, Pence spoke with reporters.
“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 said. “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.”
Pence spoke from the South Korean Navy’s 2nd Fleet Command in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul. He was there to visit a memorial for the South Korean warship Cheonan, which was sunk by an explosion by the North. Nearly 50 sailors aboard the Cheonan were killed.
The vice president also met with some North Korean defectors while in Pyeongtaek.
Moon said South Korea is viewing 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.”
'Vigilance and resolve'
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.
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.