US and senior North Korean officials say they have no intention of meeting each other at the Winter Olympics – even though vice-president Mike Pence and Kim Jong-un’s younger sister will be seated just metres apart at the opening ceremony.
Friday’s VIP seating arrangements are seen as a “protocol headache” for the South Korean hosts, who have been pushing for the Games in Pyeongchang to be known as a “peace Olympics”.
Instead, the opening ceremony could prove to be an awkward and frosty affair.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, is expected to attend, becoming the first member of the immediate family to cross the border between the countries that are technically still at war.
Kim Yo-jong, who also oversees the regime’s propaganda department, is blacklisted under US sanctions and has been playing an increasingly prominent role in the ruling Workers’ party.
It is speculated that she might carry a message from her brother to the South.
The North Korean delegation also includes Kim Yong-nam, the country’s nominal head of state. The US delegation, meanwhile, will be led by Pence, who has vowed to prevent Kim from “hijacking the message and imagery of the Olympic Games”.
Before travelling to South Korea, Pence said the US would soon unveil “the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever” in a bid to pressure it to abandon its nuclear ambitions. He told American troops in Japan that the US was “ready for any eventuality”.
Pence is to be accompanied by the father of Otto Warmbier, the American student who was imprisoned by North Korea and died just days after being returned to the US in a coma last year.
“We’ll be there to cheer on our American athletes, but we’ll also be there to stand with our allies and remind the world that North Korea is the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet,” Pence said on Wednesday.
“We will not allow North Korean propaganda to hijack the message and imagery of the Olympic Games. We will not allow North Korea to hide behind the Olympic banner the reality that they enslave their people and threaten the wider region.”
In a move likely to increase tensions, the North is expected to proceed with a large military parade on Thursday.
The US and North Korean delegations say they are not angling for a meeting, although some interaction may occur, possibly at a reception before the opening ceremony.
“We have no intention whatsoever to meet US authorities during our visit to the South,” North Korean foreign ministry official Cho Yong-Sam said, according to state media.
The International Olympic Committee is leaving the delicate decisions on seating to the South Korean hosts. The IOC president, Thomas Bach, said he would “not make the mistake to try to interfere” as that would be “a recipe for disaster”.
One official familiar with the planning told the Reuters news agency: “This is a protocol headache … 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?”
Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president who has pushed for greater dialogue between North and South, said he hoped the “mood for peace” would continue after the Games. Athletes from both sides of the border will march under the one flag.
Japan, another US ally in the region, has taken a harder line. Prime minister Shinzo Abe said countries should not be “captivated by the charm offensive”.
The sudden outbreak of North-South cooperation has not been all plain sailing. A United Nations committee is considering granting an exemption to sanctions that would prevent Choe Hwi, of North Korea’s national sports guidance committee, from travelling to the Games.
And a ship carrying North Korea’s art troupe to the South has requested fuel supplies. Seoul is still weighing up how that gels with UN sanctions.
سایت تابناک از انتشار نظرات حاوی توهین و افترا و نوشته شده با حروف لاتین (فینگیلیش) معذور است.