Email
Password
Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageUS does not rule out North Korea talks at Olympics

By with Andrew Beatty in Washington and Dave Clark in Lima (AFP)     Feb 5, 2018 in World

US Vice-President Mike Pence refused to rule out meeting North Koreans attending the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, offering the faintest hope of a diplomatic breakthrough Tuesday.

With the United States and North Korea locked in a high-stakes nuclear standoff and trading fiery insults, Pence said no talks were scheduled, but suggested a meeting may not be rebuffed.

"With regard to any interaction with the North Korean delegation, I have not requested a meeting, but we'll see what happens," Pence said during a stop in Alaska, on route to Asia.

"President (Donald) Trump has said he always believes in talking," Pence added, "I haven't requested any meetings. But we'll see what happens."

Pence is leading the US delegation to Friday's opening ceremony of the politically tinged games. Pyongyang's delegation is being led by North Korea's ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-Nam.

- Sporting chance -

North and South Korea have, at least temporarily, put aside their enmity to allow Pyongyang to send athletes to the Games, an opening that some see as an opportunity to push for a negotiated settlement.

Kim will become the most senior-ranked North Korean official to ever cross the Demilitarized Zone into the South.

That appears to have prompted the US overture. "A message was being sent" said one US official, commenting on Pence's comments and an almost identical message from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. "All it does is indicate that anything is possible."

Visits to Pyongyang by top US officials have been rare and fare between.

In late 2014, then national intelligence director James Clapper made a secret trip to secure the release of two Americans -- Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller -- and had what he later described as a tense dinner with a top North Korean intelligence official

In 2010, former president Jimmy Carter visited to secure the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes.

A year earlier former president Bill Clinton visited to secure the release journalists Laura Ling and Euna Less.

Possibly the most substantive high-level talks occurred when then US secretary of state Madeleine Albright met with the late leader Kim Jong-il during a visit to Pyongyang in October 2000.

Pence said any encounter with North Korean officials today would center on the military threat.

"My message -- whatever the setting, whoever is present -- will be the same. And that is that North Korea must once and for all abandon its nuclear weapons program and ballistic missile ambitions."

"North Korea can have a better future than the militaristic path and the path of provocation and confrontation that it's on. Better for its own people, better for the region, and better for peace."

Since coming to office, Trump has derided North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un as "little rocket man" for pushing development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles capable of threatening the United States.

Washington is currently waging a campaign of "maximum pressure," in the hope that a tougher economic and diplomatic environment will alter the regime's calculus.

Trump has convinced the global community to significantly tighten sanctions against the North, but has so far failed to convince China to agree to a game-changing oil embargo.

Inside the White House there is fierce debate about whether preemptive military action will be needed to stop North Korea's drive for nuclear power status.

With the risk of war rising, some US officials are eager to play down talk of a "bloody nose" strike designed to warn the Kim regime against groundbreaking nuclear or ballistic missile tests.

General Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Tuesday said the focus was on backing up diplomatic efforts with the credible use of force.

With an estimated 30,000 US personnel stationed on the Korean peninsula and Seoul within range of North Korean artillery, any conflict there would almost certainly be devastating.

"At the end of the day it will be a nasty war if we fight on the Korean Peninsula," Dunford told troops in Australia.

Pence is visiting Alaska, Tokyo and Seoul before attending the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in the snowy Taebaek Mountains.

He will attend the ceremony with the father of Otto Warmbier, a 22 year-old student who died shortly after his release from a North Korean prison.

More about oly, 2018, NKorea, Nuclear, US
More news from