Pence's Olympic trip a 'missed opportunity' for North Korea diplomacy, source says

US Vice President Mike Pence's trip to South Korea for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics has been called "a missed oppo...

Posted: Feb. 12, 2018 1:53 PM
Updated: Feb. 12, 2018 1:53 PM

US Vice President Mike Pence's trip to South Korea for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics has been called "a missed opportunity" by a senior diplomatic source close to North Korea.

When asked about Pence's remarks to the Washington Post of a possible diplomatic opening between the two countries, the source said North Korea remains skeptical of Pence's comments given that he appears to have spoken on his own, without co-ordination from the White House and State Department.

In the interview, Pence said the US and South Korea agreed on terms for further engagement with North Korea, calling the diplomatic path "maximum pressure and engagement at the same time."

"The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization," Pence is quoted as saying. "So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we'll talk."

The senior diplomatic source said Pence "degraded the image of the United States as a superpower" by meeting with North Korean defectors along with Otto Warmbier's father, and by speaking strongly against North Korea on multiple occasions.

Fred Warmbier accompanied Pence during his visit to South Korea. His son Otto was jailed in North Korea and died upon his return to the US last year after suffering extensive brain damage.

'Undignified behavior'

The source further described as "undignified behavior" Pence's decision to stay seated and to not applaud the unified Korean team at the opening ceremony, adding that the Vice President "took the low road instead of acting like a big brother."

Even a small gesture of respect, the source says, could have led to a diplomatic opening between North Korea and the US that would have helped to increase trust between the two countries. Instead, Pence was criticized by North Korean media, accused of not respecting the "Olympic spirit."

The source added, however, that North Korea could still be willing to work with the United States on a "comprehensive and integrated agreement," under the right conditions - adding "denuclearization could mean many things," including an agreement to suspend missile and nuclear tests in exchange for limited recognition or acceptance of its nuclear status.

The United States' position on dialogue with North Korea hasn't exactly been consistent.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in December the US was ready to talk without preconditions, only to have the White House nix the notion.

Officials in the Trump administration have previously said a North Korean commitment to denuclearization up front was necessary to kick start talks.

In September, Tillerson said the situation on the Korean Peninsula was "overheated" and would need to calm down before any conversations were to take place.

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