LIMA: US Vice-President Mike Pence or other top officials might meet North Koreans at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in coming days, Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday.
Washington has previously said it would not initiate contact with the North Korean delegation attending the games in South Korea. But it is open to talks to try to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program.
Asked during a visit to Peru whether Pence might accept an invitation to meet the delegation, Tillerson – who is pushing for a diplomatic solution to the crisis – would not rule it out.
“With respect to the vice president’s trip to the Olympics and whether or not there would be an opportunity for any kind of a meeting with North Korea, I think we’ll just see,” he told reporters.
Pushed on whether that meant he was not saying “no,” Tillerson replied: “We’ll see, we’ll see what happens.”
Asked about Tillerson’s comments, Pence told journalists in Alaska that he had not requested a meeting with the North Koreans, but echoed the secretary of state in saying that “we’ll see what happens.”
If there were an opportunity for a meeting, “President (Donald) Trump has said he always believes in talking,” Pence said, while reiterating that he had not asked for one.
“But my message, whatever the setting, whoever is present, will be the same. And that is that North Korea must once and for all abandon its nuclear weapons program and ballistic missile ambitions,” he said.
Pence is visiting Alaska, Tokyo and Seoul before attending the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in the South Korean town of Pyeongchang on Friday.
This is Pence’s second visit to the region as vice president and comes as Trump’s administration is working to put “maximum pressure” on the North Korean regime through diplomacy and sanctions.
The North is working to develop a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capable of reaching the continental United States, in what it says is a deterrent against US aggression.
Trump has repeatedly said he would not allow that to happen. As the two nations trade belligerent rhetoric, fears have grown that some spark could set off a devastating conflict.
But North and South Korea have, at least temporarily, put aside their enmity to allow Pyongyang to send athletes to the Games, an opening that some see as an opportunity to push for a negotiated settlement.