US warns against falling for N. Korea's charm offensive

Pence asserts Seoul will be ally in pressure campaign, despite signs of warming ties at Olympics

PYEONGCHANG • Even as South Korean President Moon Jae In warmed up to the North Koreans, the United States has warned against falling for Pyongyang's Olympic charm offensive.

US Vice-President Mike Pence, who was seated in the same box as the North Korean delegation during the opening ceremony, did not interact with them at any point.

"I am very confident, as President (Donald) Trump is, that President Moon will continue to stand strongly with us in our extreme-pressure campaign," Mr Pence told NBC in an interview, maintaining all options were open to deal with the crisis.

North and South Korea are technically still at war after their 1950-1953 conflict ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

The US fought with South Korea and maintains tens of thousands of troops and an "ironclad" agreement to protect its ally.

Mr Moon hoped to use the Winter Olympics, which began last Friday in north-east Pyeongchang county, to ease tensions with the North.

CONFIDENCE IN ALLY

I am very confident, as President Trump is, that President Moon will continue to stand strongly with us in our extreme-pressure campaign.

'' US VICE-PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE, amid signs that South Korean President Moon Jae In is warming up to the North Koreans.

And North Korea reciprocated by sending high-profile officials, including leader Kim Jong Un's younger sister Yo Jong and the North's ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam, as well as athletes.

Mr Kim Jong Un yesterday invited President Moon for talks in Pyongyang, setting the stage for the first meeting of Korean leaders in more than 10 years. Mr Moon did not immediately accept the offer, calling instead for efforts to "create the right conditions to realise" such a visit, and urging Pyongyang to actively seek dialogue with the US, said Mr Moon's spokesman.

The prospect of the two-way talks, however, may not be welcomed by the US.

Pyongyang conducted its largest nuclear test last year and said it had developed a missile capable of carrying a warhead to the US.

US President Trump and the North Korean leadership traded insults as tensions rose, with Mr Trump repeatedly dismissing the prospect or value of talks with North Korea. Washington has pursued a strategy of exerting maximum pressure on Pyongyang through tough sanctions and harsh rhetoric, demanding it give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

"This is the strongest action yet by North Korea to drive a wedge between the South and the United States," said Professor Kim Sung Han, a former South Korean vice-foreign minister and now an academic at Korea University in Seoul.

In Washington, China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi, who was visiting the US, told Mr Trump that China hoped it and the US could increase their coordination on the North Korea issue, China's Foreign Ministry said yesterday.

The US has repeatedly pressed China, North Korea's most significant trading partner and main ally, to do more to rein in Pyongyang's nuclear and missile ambitions.

China says it is committed to fully enforcing United Nations resolutions on North Korea, which include sweeping sanctions, but that all parties must make more effort to reduce tensions and get the talks process restarted.

China has said it hopes the thaw in ties between North and South Korea over the Winter Olympics can be translated into regular talks between the two, and even to talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 11, 2018, with the headline 'US warns against falling for N. Korea's charm offensive'. Print Edition | Subscribe