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North Korea has 'no intention' to meet US in South — KCNA

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

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SEOUL, South Korea (AFP) — North Korea has no intention to meet US officials during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in the South, Pyongyang's state media said Thursday — but did not rule it out.

"We have no intention whatsoever to meet US authorities during our visit to the South," Cho Yong-Sam, a senior foreign ministry official, was quoted as saying by the North's official KCNA news agency.

"We have never begged for dialogue with the US and will never do so," he said.

But his comments did not rule out a meeting — and nor has US Vice President Mike Pence, who is due in the South on Thursday.

North Korea is under multiple sets of UN Security Council sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, which have seen it develop rockets capable of reaching the US mainland.

Both Kim Yong-Nam, the North's ceremonial head of state, who is leading its delegation and Pence, are due to attend the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang on Friday.

That could put them in the same room at a leaders' reception beforehand.

Pence has lambasted the North, announcing in Tokyo on Wednesday that the US would impose its toughest sanctions to date on the regime.

With Pyongyang on an Olympics-linked publicity drive — sending a troupe of performers, hundreds of female cheerleaders, and the sister of leader Kim Jong-Un to the South — Pence said the US "will not allow North Korean propaganda to hijack the message and imagery of the Olympic Games". But on his way to Asia, he left it open whether he would meet any of Pyongyang's representatives. "I have not requested a meeting, but we'll see what happens," he said.

The Winter Olympics, which will take place just 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the Demilitarised Zone that divides the two Koreas, have triggered a rapid rapprochement on the peninsula, although analysts warn that warmer relations may not last long beyond the Games.

Tensions soared last year as the North carried out multiple weapons tests, including intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the US mainland, and by far its most powerful nuclear test to date.

Kim Jong-Un and US President Donald Trump traded personal insults and threats of war, and for months Pyongyang ignored Seoul's entreaties to take part in a "peace Olympics" until Kim indicated his willingness to do so in his New Year speech.

That set off a rapid series of meetings which saw the two Koreas agree to march together at the opening ceremony and form a unified women's ice hockey team, their first for 27 years.

But critics in the South say Seoul has made too many concessions to Pyongyang, and demonstrators protested the arrival of the art troupe earlier this week.

Analysts say the North is looking to portray itself as a normal country with its participation in the Games, and could be trying to weaken the sanctions regime against it or drive a wedge between the South and its protecting ally the US.

But Pyongyang official Cho insisted: "The reason that our delegation is in the South is to participate in the Winter Olympics and celebrate its successful hosting.

"We will not make use of sports festivities such as the Winter Olympics for political purposes," he was quoted as saying. "We don't feel any need to do so either."

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