Winter Olympics: Pence snubs North Korea leader as North and South Korea athletes march together
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence made only a brief appearance at a reception marking the start of the Winter Olympics on Friday, avoiding a potentially awkward encounter with the ceremonial leader of North Korea attending the same event, reports Reuters.
The reception in the mountain resort of Pyeongchang came hours before North and South Korean athletes marched together at the opening ceremony, the culmination of months of work by Seoul, which seeks to use the Olympics to ease tension spurred by North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Ahead of the reception, hosted by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, South Korean media said Pence was expected to be seated opposite Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s nominal head of state, at the 12-seat head table.
But South Korea’s presidential Blue House said Pence had a meeting scheduled with U.S. athletes and had only planned to stay briefly to greet other officials.
Pence shook hands with other leaders, including close ally Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but not Kim Yong Nam, according to a Blue House pool official.
Earlier on Friday, Pence said Moon gave his backing to additional measures the United States is planning to try to curb North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, speaking after paying tribute at a South Korean memorial.
At the opening ceremony, Kim Yong Nam and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, waved to North and South Korean athletes who marched under a unified peninsula flag for the first time in a decade.
Moon later officially declared the Olympics open, followed by a burst of fireworks. South Korea’s figure skating superstar and Olympic gold medalist Kim Yuna lit the Olympic cauldron.
The high-ranking North Korean delegation had landed in South Korea earlier in the day aboard Kim Jong Un’s white private jet which had the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name, inscribed in black in Korean on its side, followed by the North Korean flag.
Kim Yo Jong and her delegation were greeted by government officials, including Unification Minister Cho Myong-gyon, before boarding a bullet train to Pyeongchang. A special train had been prepared just for the visitors, a Blue House pool report said.
Smiling and seemingly unfazed by cameras flashing during the airport meeting, Kim Yo Jong wore a black coat, matching ankle boots and carried a black purse. Dozens of South Koreans at the airport tried to snap photographs of her on their mobile phones.
She was the first member of North Korea’s ruling family to visit the South, while Kim Yong Nam was the most senior North Korean official to make a cross-border trip.
Photo: Nigeria bobsled team at the Winter Olympics