North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s sister was seen enjoying the Winter Olympics opening ceremony on Friday in Pyeongchang, South Korea sitting right behind U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.
Pence was in no mood to trifle, however: He told the ‘Today’ show that while America is pushing the pause button on military action in the region, President Donald Trump is prepared to defend the United States while Olympic medals are being passed out.
Kim Yo Jong had taken her seat just feet away from the Vice President, behind his wife Karen Pence, after shaking the hand of South Korean President Moon Jae-in as they entered the stadium for the event.
A White House official says Pence and Kim Yo Jong did not interact despite being seated just feet apart.
The vice president and his wife also noticeably remained seated while everyone around them got to their feet to applaud the moment both North and South Korea teams walked into the stadium together. A White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed Pence stood only for the U.S. team.
Despite heightened tensions between the Koreas in recent years, the two countries decided to use the Olympics as a moment to celebrate peace and what unites the two countries. Athletes from North and South paraded together for the first time in 11 years, flying their flag which was white with the blue Korean peninsula in the middle. The last time they marched together was the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Kim Yo Jong was among the many who applauded the moment from the stands. Kim Jong Un’s younger sister is part of a high-level diplomatic delegation led by the North’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam, and she is the first member of Pyongyang’s ruling dynasty to set foot in the country since the Korean War more than 60 years ago.
‘President Trump and our allies in the region have agreed to delay our military exercises until after the Olympics,’ Pence told NBC anchor Lester Holt. ‘And President Moon has appreciated that.’
‘But we’re going to make it crystal clear that our military, the Japanese self-defense forces, our allies here in South Korea, all of our allies here across the region, are fully prepared to defend our nations and to take what action is necessary to defend our homeland.’
Pence later visited the USA House at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games where he met with United States Olympic Committee officials and athletes including Olympian Katie Uhlaender.
Kim Yong Nam was earlier seen meeting with President Moon, the two leaders shaking hands ahead of the opening ceremony.
He had also reportedly met with Pence on Thursday night when the Vice President stopped by a formal dinner which he ended up not joining.
Vice President Pence, Mr. Kim and President Moon had reportedly been due to share a table at the dinner, but Pence arrived late, ‘exchanged greetings with those seated at the head table, and left without sitting down’, a spokesperson for the South Korean president’s office said.
This despite the fact that a top North Korea Foreign Ministry official had ruled out meeting with any representatives from the United States.
‘We have no intention to meet with the U.S. side during the stay in South Korea,’ the official was quoted as saying.
‘We are not going to use such a sports festival as the Winter Olympics as a political lever. There is no need to do so.’
President Moon has pushed the Games as a ‘peace Olympics’ that will open a door for dialogue to alleviate tensions on the peninsula and seek to persuade Pyongyang to give up its atomic ambitions.
The ceremony itself was also a symbolic quest to find peace, with a spectacular display featured child performers, huge puppets, dazzling light displays and thousands of dancers in a celebration of Korean unity.
Inside the area 30,000 people, including a 200-strong North Korean cheerleading squad, watched the display in -3C temperatures, and were encouraged to bang drums given to them in an extreme weather kit to keep warm.
As the teams paraded around the stadium their national flags were displayed in the center of the stage, while lights behind each seat lit up with the national colours.
In line with President Moon’s ‘peace Olympics’ ambitions, there is reportedly a ‘good chance’ that Ms Kim will invite President Moon to Pyongyang during a lunch on Saturday, CNN reports.
Sources told CNN that the potential visit would be ‘sometime this year’, and if it goes ahead it would be the first visit from a South Korean president in 11 years.
The last member of the Kim family to set foot in Seoul was Yo Jong’s grandfather Kim Il Sung, the North’s founder, after his forces invaded in 1950 and the capital fell.
Three years later the conflict ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula divided by the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone, and the two sides technically in a state of war.
Now the North is subject to multiple rounds of UN Security Council sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, while the democratic South has risen to become the world’s 11th-largest economy.
Kim Yong Nam and Kim Yo Jong, both of them in dark coats with fur collars, were met by the South’s unification minister and other officials.
Their trip is the diplomatic high point of an Olympics-driven rapprochement between the two Koreas.
The delegation was due to take a high-speed train to Pyeongchang, where the Olympics opening ceremony would be held later Friday, and attended by US Vice President Mike Pence and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
But all eyes are on Ms Kim – a key member of the dictator dynasty that has ruled the impoverished, isolated nation with an iron fist and pervasive personality cult through three generations.
Members of the family are widely revered in the North as ‘Paektu bloodline’, named after the country’s highest mountain and hailed as the supposed birthplace of the late leader Kim Jong Il.
Many analysts suggest Yo Jong may be carrying a personal message from her brother to his dovish South Korean counterpart Moon.
Tensions have been high on the peninsula since last year when the North staged its sixth and most powerful nuclear test and test-fired multiple long-range missiles, some of them capable of reaching the US mainland.
Leader Kim and US President Donald Trump exchanged threats of war and personal insults, sparking global alarm and fears of another conflict on the peninsula.
But Kim abruptly announced a plan to send athletes and high-level delegates to the Pyeongchang Winter Games in his new year speech, setting in motion a flurry of cross-border talks and activities.
The announcement – following months of cajoling by Seoul – is seen as a bid to defuse tensions and try to seek a loosening of the sanctions against it.
Hundreds of athletes, cheerleaders and artistes have already arrived in the South and the North’s state orchestra gave one of two planned concerts in the South on Thursday night to a packed audience.
But the latest rapprochement has met a backlash in the South with many accusing Seoul of making too many concessions to the wayward neighbour that even pushed ahead with a military parade on Thursday in Pyongyang in a showcase of its military might.
Conservative activists also accused Pyongyang of ‘hijacking’ the South’s Winter Olympics and have held angry protests by burning the images of the leader Kim or the North’s national flag near venues where North Koreans made public appearances.
US Vice President Mike Pence, who leads the US delegation to the Olympics, renewed a call for ‘maximum pressure’ on the North to force it abandon its nuclear weapon during a meeting with Moon Thursday.
But he did not rule out a meeting with the North’s delegates during the Games, saying there ‘may be a possibility for any kind of an encounter with North Koreans,’ whether informal or formal.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Sarah Malm and Amie Gordon