Pence’s bid to isolate North Korea falls flat
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea
For all of Vice President Mike Pence’s efforts to keep North Korea from stealing the show at the Winter Olympics, the images of the two Koreas marching together – and their officials shaking hands – at a time of heightened tensions on the peninsula proved impossible to counteract.
Pence spent the days leading up to Friday’s opening ceremonies warning that the North was trying to “hijack the message and imagery of the Olympic Games” with its “propaganda.”
But the North was still welcomed with open arms to what South Korean President Moon Jae-in called “Olympic games of peace,” and the U.S. appeared to be the one left out in the cold.
Pence sat stone-faced in his seat as Moon and North Koreans officials stood together with much of the stadium to applaud their joint team of athletes. White House officials stressed that Pence had applauded only for the American team, but Asia experts said the vice president’s refusal to stand could be seen as disrespectful to the hosts.
U.S. officials have been urging South Korea to be cautious in its rapprochement with the North – a point Pence drilled home in private meetings with Moon on Thursday.
But North Korea’s terrible record on human rights and the growing threat from its nuclear weapons program appeared out of mind as Moon warmly greeted Kim Yo Jong, the sister of dictator Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Nam, the country’s 90-year-old nominal head of state.