As North and South Koreans Meet at the Games, Pence Holds Back


Although Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly floated the prospect of meeting with North Korean leaders in South Korea, he apparently passed up several opportunities at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

“We’ll see what happens,’’ Pence said Monday before leaving for the games, where the two Koreas planned to participate together.

But when he arrived in Pyeongchang, Pence’s behavior drew a sharp contrast with other world leaders, and he did not seem to be present during key moments of the opening ceremonies.

White House aides said the vice president was agnostic about whether or not to meet with top officials from Kim Jong Un’s regime and neither pursued nor avoided encounters, though in some cases the officials were just a few feet away.

Pence missed the group photograph organized by South Korea on Friday, shortly before the games began, and was not pictured with world leaders, including North Korea’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam.

He stayed for only about five minutes at a reception hosted Friday by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and did not interact with Kim Yong Nam, who was also in the room and slated to sit at the same table. At the opening ceremony, Pence did not shake hands with Kim Yo Jong — the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — who was nearby.

“Our objective here today is to stand with our allies, but it’s also to stand up for the truth, and to recognize that whatever images may emerge against the powerful backdrop and idealism of the Olympics, that North Korea has to accept change,’’ Pence told reporters Friday before traveling to Pyeongchang.

Historic Handshakes

Kim Yo Jong, right, and Moon Jae-in, front left, applaud during the opening ceremony.

Photographer: Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images

Pictures of Moon and Kim Yo Jong shaking hands at the opening ceremony and standing together applauding as athletes from both Koreas waved unification flags dominated South Korean media on Friday and Saturday, and quickly spread on the Internet and social media.

Pence, who was in the same VIP box with Kim Yo Jong and Moon, was pictured sitting down facing forward as their historic interaction took place right behind him.

Two White House officials said Pence knew in advance where the North Korean officials would be seated in the VIP box, and opted to accept a seat nearby as well in order to show the strength of the alliance between the U.S., South Korea and Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also sat in the VIP box.

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