Seoul, Feb 9 (IANS) US Vice-President Mike Pence on Friday skipped a dinner hosted by South Korean President Moon Jae-in at which he was due to share a table with North Korea’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam ahead of the opening of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
Pence briefly encountered Kim but they tried to avoid directly facing each other, with Pence leaving the venue only after a five-minute stay, reported Yonhap news agency.
The top US official was originally scheduled to sit at the head table with the South Korean host and North Korea’s chief delegate to the Winter Games.
Pence has brought Fred Warmbier, the father of a young American who died after being released from prison in North Korea, as a guest to South Korea.
The reception was held at a hotel in Yongpyeong, just east of the host city of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games. It was attended by some 200 people, including more than two dozen global leaders such as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Presidents of Estonia and Germany.
While Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe both shook hands with Kim, the US Vice-President did not, South Korean officials said.
Moon’s Chief Press Secretary Yoon Young-chan later said that Pence was originally scheduled to hold a separate dinner with US athletes at the PyeongChang Olympic Games, insisting his early departure did not mean a boycott, the agency reported.
In a meeting with Moon a day before, Pence said his country will continue to put maximum pressure on the North until the reclusive state comes to the dialogue table to discuss its “permanent” and “irreversible” denuclearisation.
Moon, on the other hand, has repeatedly stressed the need to keep the inter-Korean dialogue moving forward, so they may lead to a resumption of international negotiations on ending the North’s nuclear ambitions.
Pence arrived here on Thursday while North Korea’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam and other delegates, including leader Kim Jong-un’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong, arrived on Friday.
The highest profile member of the North Korean delegation to the Games, Yo-jong is the first immediate member of the North’s ruling family to visit the South since the 1950-1953 Korean war.