The White House has announced that two senior officials, Vice President Pence and Ivanka Trump, will attend the Winter Olympics held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The Games, which run from February 9th to February 25th, include over 2,000 athletes from 92 countries.
The Games come in the midst of escalating tension on the Korean Peninsula, with leaders of both North Korea and the U.S. hurling insults at each other over the past several months, according to BBC. The rising tension stems from North Korea’s renewed efforts to obtain the technology needed to produce intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, capable of striking the U.S. mainland. Despite several rounds of United Nations and international sanctions, North Korea has continually test-fired missiles over the Sea of Japan, raising concerns among neighboring countries.
Last month, North Korea unexpectedly agreed to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, according to Korea Herald. After extensive negotiations between the North and the South, both teams agreed to march under a single flag during the opening ceremony. North Korea also sent Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Nam, the nominal head of state of North Korea, according to the New York Times.
During the opening ceremony, South Korean President Moon JaeIn publicly shook hands with Kim Yo Jong, the powerful younger sister of Kim Jong Un, in a historic show of unity. Kim Yo Jong is the first member of the Kim dynasty to set foot on South Korean soil since the Korean War. Despite the friendly demeanors of both North and South Korean officials, Vice President Pence, who sat one row in front of Kim Yo Jong during the opening ceremony, did not interact with the North Korean delegation.
According to a statement by White House officials, the seating arrangements were known beforehand, and “both sides rebuffed efforts by South Korean officials to set up a meeting” between the U.S. and North Korean delegations. Pence chose to remain near Kim Yo Jong to show the unity and strength of the alliance between the US, Japan, and South Korea.
Although Pence did not rule out a meeting with the North Korean delegation, he confirmed to reporters that he did not request a meeting specifically. According to a Pence aide, the “Vice-President 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.”
Although the Games present an opportunity for diplomacy, the White House continues to weigh all options to force North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, including a military strike. In recent weeks, military planners have floated the idea of a “bloody-nose strike” as a warning shot to North Korea.
The White House is also expected to announce another round of sanctions against North Korean officials. At a news conference, Pence called it the “toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever.” No details of the sanctions have been unveiled but the Treasury Department is expected to announce further details soon.