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Heading home, Pence insists 'no daylight' on North Korea

12 February 2018

Pence, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force Two after attending the opening ceremony of the Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, said that he and President Moon Jae-in "continue to stand strong" and coordinate efforts against the North.

All broke out in broad smiles.

On the sidelines, the North's presumed head of state, Kim Yong-nam, and the powerful sister of the supreme leader Kim Jong-un, Kim Yo-jong, attended the ceremony and met Moon, making this the highest-level visit by North Korean leaders to the South.

The North-South Olympics detente has raised concerns in Washington and Tokyo that Seoul may ease up on a "maximum pressure" campaign by the United States and its allies to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear and missile programs. It was not immediately known what they said, but all of them were smiling.

At the opening ceremony, Pence and the North Koreans, who were seated in the row behind him, studiously ignored each other, even as Moon and his wife turned around to greet the North Koreans warmly.

Pence was asked about Thursday's military parade in North Korea overseen by dictator Kim Jong Un.

Earlier in the day, Kim Yo-jong, as the North ruler's special envoy, delivered his letter to President Moon Jae-in, which includes an invitation of the South's leader to Pyongyang at an early date. There was another handshake.

To pave the way for the North's participation at Pyeongchang, South Korea had delayed the annual exercises with U.S. forces, which usually take place between February and March, until after the Olympics.

The North Koreans and Moon are reportedly due to watch the Koreas' unified women's ice hockey team's first match against Switzerland later Saturday.

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

The delegation was led by the president of the North's Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, Kim Yong Nam, and included Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of the North leader. But privately, officials said, Pence expressed concern to Moon about his more conciliatory tone toward North Korea. "We're happy", he said.

Similar amicable interactions are visible among female North and South Korean hockey players, who have formed the rivals' first joint Olympic team. A total of about 500 North Koreans, including 22 athletes and 140 musicians, arrived in South Korea this week for the Olympics.

Two players, one South Korean and the other North Korean, appeared on the opening ceremony and climbed stairs together with the Olympic torch that they handed to Olympic champion figure skater Yuna Kim.

Are these Winter Games having the effect South Korea had hoped, in thawing relations with the north? There were rumblings of discontent over having to drop players to add the North Koreans, and of being pawns in a game they did not want to play.

Sarah Murray, the Canadian coach of the Korean team, said she and her staff have intentionally played down the historic nature of the team since the players are facing enough challenges with the late addition of the North Korean players.

A unified Korean women's ice hockey team, first of its kind in the Olympic history, has won the hearts of millions on Saturday night, despite a 8-0 loss to the Sochi bronze victor Switzerland in their debut at the PyeongChang Olympic Games.

Heading home, Pence insists 'no daylight' on North Korea