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Pence open to meeting North Korean officials at Pyeongchang

Sheetal Sukhija - Wednesday 7th February, 2018

SEOUL, South Korea - As the U.S. Vice President Mike Pence set out on his Asia trip that will culminate at the Winter Olympics in South Korea - many raised the possibility of talks involving the U.S. side and North Korean officials.

On Tuesday, Pence arrived in Japan, on the first leg of his Asia trip and told reporters that he had no plans to talk to North Korean officials but that he was leaving the possibility of a meeting open. 

He said, "President Trump has said he always believes in talking, but I haven’t requested any meetings. But we’ll see what happens.”

Before Pence left, officials said that during his visit to Asia, Washington wants to keep the focus on the North's disregard for calls to halt its nuclear program and convince allies to keep pressuring Pyongyang.

While the U.S. has perceived North Korea’s Olympics overture as a pretence to use the event for crude propaganda - South Korea is hoping for a substantial breakthrough in talks between the two Koreas.

South Korea, which currently houses about 28,500 American troops, has welcomed the North Korean team, as part of its efforts to improve ties.

This is the first such effort after North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test last year and a series of missile tests, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump has said he hopes "something good" can come from North Korea's participation in the Pyeongchang Games.

He, however, said that his advisers see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's embrace of the Games as a facade of international goodwill and cooperation.

The U.S. Vice President is accompanied by the father of an American student, Otto Warmbier, who was imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months and died in June 2017 from lack of oxygen and blood to the brain, as his guest for the opening ceremony on Friday.

A White House official confirmed, "The vice president will be there with Mr. Warmbier at the opening ceremony ... to remind the world of the atrocities that happen in North Korea.”

Further, during his visit, Pence is also set to visit a memorial for 46 South Korean sailors killed in 2010 in the sinking of a warship.

Seoul has alleged a North Korean torpedo attacked the warship, resulting in the death of its sailors.

As Pence arrived in Japan, the U.S. began its pressure tactic, at the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament.

The conference in Geneva, being held days after the Trump administration said it would expand its nuclear capability, saw the U.S. argue that North Korea may be only months away from being able to strike the United States with a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile.

North Korea has, meanwhile, argued that Washington was considering a pre-emptive strike.

North Korea is also sending its ceremonial leader, Kim Yong Nam to the Games.

Nam is the most senior North Korean official to enter the South since the Korean War ended with a truce, instead of a peace treaty. 

Further, hundreds of North Korean officials, athletes, cheerleaders and artistic performers are also expected at Pyeongchang.

Earlier on Tuesday, reports noted that a North Korean ferry arrived in the South, carrying a 140-strong orchestra which will perform near Pyeongchang and in the capital, Seoul - after a rare sanctions exemption from Seoul went into place.

The orchestra was greeted by several protesters, many holding large photos of Kim Jong Un with black crosses drawn through them.

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