North Korea has no intention of meeting U.S. officials during the Winter Olympics that start in South Korea on Friday, state media said, dampening hopes the Games will help resolve a tense standoff over the North’s nuclear weapons program.
However, the North’s high-ranking delegation, including the younger sister of its leader Kim Jong Un, will meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in and have lunch with him on Saturday.
Such a meeting would be the first such event between a South Korean head of state and a member of the Kim family since a 2007 summit meeting of Kim Jong Il and late South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who has described North Korea as the world’s most tyrannical regime, spoke with Moon on Thursday ahead of the opening ceremony in the mountain resort of Pyeongchang, just 80 km from the heavily armed border with the reclusive North.
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Friday’s ceremony will be attended by North Korea’s delegation, including its nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam.
Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the North’s leader, and her entourage will travel by private jet to Seoul’s Incheon International Airport on Friday, North Korea told the South.
“We have never begged for dialogue with the U.S. nor in the future, too,” the North’s KCNA news agency said, citing Jo Yong Sam, a director-general in the North’s foreign ministry.
“Explicitly speaking, we have no intention to meet with the U.S. side during the stay in South Korea… Our delegation’s visit to South Korea is only to take part in the Olympics and hail its successful holding.”
The United States had not requested talks with North Korea, but Pence left open the possibility of some contact although his message for denuclearisation remained unchanged.
In opening remarks during his meeting with Moon, Pence said the United States would never waver in its goal of getting North Korea to give up its nuclear and ballistic missile program through strong pressure, an aim shared with South Korea.
Pence has said Washington would soon unveil “the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever” while South Korea wants to use the Olympics to re-engage with the North.
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In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters all sides, not just the two Koreas, needed to work hard and dialogue between the United States and North Korea should be expanded for this to happen, Wang said.
“You can’t have it that one person opens the door and another closes it,” he said.
North and South Korea are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The North defends its weapons programmes as necessary to counter U.S. aggression. The South hosts 28,500 U.S. troops, a legacy of the war.