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Pence wants to ‘control the message’ at PyeongChang

Feb 06,2018
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is expected to use his presence at the PyeongChang Winter Games to prevent North Korea from “hijacking” the message of the Olympics, his aide was reported as saying on Sunday.

Pence “will remind the world that everything the North Koreans do at the Olympics is a charade to cover up the fact that they are the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet,” the aide told Axios news outlet Sunday.

Pence’s aide was quoted as saying that the vice president “will not allow North Korea’s propaganda to hijack the messaging of the Olympics” and at every opportunity will “point out the reality of the oppression in North Korea by a regime that has enslaved its people.”

Another source, according to Axios, said that Pence is “countering North Korea’s desire to control the message” at the Olympics, with North Korea trying to pull off a “cute” photo opportunity.

Pence is set to lead the American delegation to the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang County, Gangwon, on Friday. He will kick off a five-day trip to Asia on Tuesday that will also take him to Japan.

The Washington Post reported that Fred Warmbier, father of the late Otto Warmbier, the American student who was jailed in North Korea and died last June after he was released in a vegetative state, will also attend the opening ceremony as a guest of the vice president. U.S. President Donald Trump has emphasized the North Korean human rights issue by meeting eight defectors from the regime at the White House on Friday, and also brought up the issue during a phone call with South Korean President Moon.

Pence will receive a briefing on missile defense systems at an air base in Alaska before heading to Tokyo where he will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He is set to have dinner with President Moon in Korea in addition to attending Olympic events.

There is interest in whether there will be any interaction between Pence and the influential Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, who was named head of a North Korean delegation traveling to the Olympics.

“We can’t completely shut out the possibility that the two will meet,” a high-ranking Blue House official told the JoongAng Ilbo on Monday. “Because politics is organic, we hope there is some dynamism.”

Moon, in a phone conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday, expressed “hope for momentum” in the improvement of inter-Korean relations through the Olympics, adding he looked forward to Pence playing “an important role in this turning point.” But Washington has maintained a stern position on the North and has shown no indications of meeting with North Korean officials thus far.

The South Korean Ministry of National Defense denied reports that the annual joint military exercises between Seoul and Washington delayed for the PyeongChang Olympics will be rescheduled to start on April 20.

Choi Hyun-soo, a South Korean Defense Ministry spokesperson, said in a briefing Monday that “there has been no negotiation during the Korea-U.S. defense ministry talks on the schedule of the joint drills” last month and that the details are still being ironed out. In early January, Moon and Trump agreed to delay the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military drills.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]