Pence raises prospect of talks between US, North Korea

Mike Pence in South Korea

U.S. officials told South Korea's president they were willing to hold direct negotiations with North Korea, a spokesman for President Moon Jae-in said Tuesday, indicating a shift in the Trump administration's policy.

Seoul is to allocate about $2.7 million toward inter-Korea cooperation that will go directly to "support" for North Korean Olympians, local news service News 1 reported Wednesday.

The official newspaper of the Workers' Party was referring to the North Korean delegation's three-day visit to the South to attend the opening of the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games and meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

A North Korean delegation, the highest-ranking to visit the South and led by the younger sister of the North's leader Kim Jong Un, concluded its visit on Sunday after charming and intriguing the South Korean public, but still faces deep scepticism over Pyongyang's sincerity towards improving relations.

When shaking hands or eating meals with officials such as South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Kim Yo Jong was all smiles, even agreeing to give a toast suddenly requested of her by the presidential Blue House's chief of staff.

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon speaks during the national team launch ceremony for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in Seoul. They stressed the North Koreans in the VIP box had watched Pence, Moon and Abe hold a running discussion in the front row for the more than two-hour ceremonies. While the U.S shows new openness to engaging with the regime, the administration has not changed its course of keeping the pressure on North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Pence said Friday that the USA would oppose talks between the two Koreas until the North agreed to open negotiations on ending its nuclear programme.

"All the parties concerned have welcomed this invitation to North Korea.", he said.

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US officials doubt that Moon would agree to a summit with Kim without the contours in place of how to move forward on denuclearization, but Revere said the USA government remains concerned that North Korea could exploit Moon's diplomacy to advance its agenda of being accepted as a nuclear weapons state.

But Washington is not as enthused by North Korea's Olympic charm offensive.

"Kim Yo Jong's call for "unification" isn't warm: It's an implicit threat to destroy the country that hosted her", The Weekly Standard concluded.

In an interview on the plane journey home, Pence told the Washington Post that the USA would continue to impose sanctions on the North Korean regime but would be willing to talk to Pyongyang as well.

The Games in South Korea are due to finish on Feb 25.

On his flight to Alaska on Saturday, the vice president said he left Asia "encouraged that we will continue to work very closely to continue and intensify the maximum pressure campaign" against North Korea.

Pence told the Washington Post that the USA intends to continue pressure on the North but indicated that the American side is open to dialogue. One of the goals is to "split" the US from its alliance with South Korea.

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