North Korea has no intention of meeting US officials during the Winter Olympics that start on Friday, the KCNA news agency reported, presenting a “protocol headache” for those planning seating arrangements at the opening ceremony.
US Vice President Mike Pence, who described North Korea as the world’s most tyrannical regime on Wednesday, flies in to South Korea on Thursday – a day before the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un arrives at Incheon International Airport.
Kim Yo-jong, who will become the first member of the North’s ruling family to visit the South since the end of the Korean War, and Mr Pence will both attend the ceremony in the mountain resort of Pyeongchang on Friday.
“We have never begged for dialogue with the United States and it will be the same going forward,” KCNA reported on Thursday, citing Cho Yong Sam, director-general of the North American department of North Korea’s foreign ministry.
“To be clear, we have no intention of meeting with the U.S. during our visit to South Korea”, and no plans to use the Winter Olympics as a political vehicle, Cho said.
Mr Pence has said he hasn’t requested a meeting but has not ruled out the possibility of meeting North Korean officials.
He said on Thursday that his message in any potential interaction would include the same point he has been making publicly: that the North must renounce its nuclear weapon and missile programms.
Pence is pouring cold water on the warming ties between North and South Korea just as the two still-warring countries are joining up to compete together in the Winter Olympics.
South Korea wants to use the Games to re-engage with the North and encourage friendly encounters between Pyongyang and Washington, but is also anxious to avoid any awkward moments – a tall order, according to officials in Seoul.
“This is a protocol headache,” one official familiar with the logistics planning told Reuters.
At a glance | North Korean sanctions that were eased for Olympics
Complicating things further, Mr Pence on Wednesday promised tough new sanctions against North Korea. And as his guest at the Games opening ceremony, the vice president is taking the father of Otto Warmbier, an American student who died last year after being imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months.
“How close should the North Koreans and Americans sit, when Washington has been so public about sanctions and pressure against North Korea? And who takes a higher seat?,” the official said, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
North Korea, meanwhile, staged a military parade in Pyongyangon the eve of the Olympics, a Seoul government source told AFP.
The North’s state television carried no live coverage of any display throughout the morning, but the source said: “We have learned that North Korea staged a military parade at Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang beginning at 10:30 am today.”
A live feed on Twitter appeared to show the troops leaving the square after finishing the parade.
China is also hoping the occasion could pave the way for dialogue.
In Beijing, foreign minister Wang Yi said China hoped North and South Korea can keep the momentum of interaction going and gradually open the door to peace on the peninsula.
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