Monday 21 January 2019

Pence sidesteps encounter with North Korean official

The US team parades at the opening ceremony. Photo: Reuters
The US team parades at the opening ceremony. Photo: Reuters

Christine Kim

US Vice President Mike Pence made only a brief appearance at a reception marking the start of the Winter Olympics in South Korea yesterday, avoiding a potentially awkward encounter with the ceremonial leader of North Korea.

The reception in the mountain resort of Pyeongchang came hours before North and South Korean athletes marched together at the opening ceremony, the culmination of months of work by Seoul, which seeks to use the Olympics to ease tension spurred by North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Ahead of the reception, hosted by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, South Korean media said Mr Pence was expected to be seated opposite Kim Yong-nam, North Korea's nominal head of state, at the head table.

But South Korea's presidential Blue House said Mr Pence had a meeting scheduled with US athletes and had only planned to stay briefly to greet other officials.

Mr Pence shook hands with other leaders, including close ally Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but not Kim Yong-nam.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Pence said Mr Moon gave his backing to additional measures the United States is planning to try to curb North Korea's missile and nuclear programmes.

At the opening ceremony, Kim Yong-nam and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister Kim Yo-jong waved to North and South Korean athletes who marched under a unified peninsula flag for the first time in a decade.

Mr Moon later officially declared the Olympics open, followed by a burst of fireworks.

Mr Pence had kept open the possibility for some contact with the North Koreans in South Korea, while reiterating Washington's insistence that denuclearisation by North Korea is a necessary condition for permanent peace.

Mr Pence, Ms Kim and other world leaders attended the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, just 80km from the heavily fortified border between North and South Korea.

Mr Pence stood to welcome the US athletes as the Korean pop hit 'Gangnam Style' blared around the stadium, sparking the 'Horse Dance' in the crowd and among the volunteers.

Hundreds of anti-North Korea protesters scuffled with riot police not far from the stadium before the opening ceremony began, with some banners reading "Moon regime is leading Korea to destruction".

Irish Independent

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