U.S. fighting words after Korean Olympics end with peace hopes


The political setting was inescapable at these games, held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in the light of rising military rhetoric on the Korean Peninsula and from the United StatesSign in to collaborate on this story, to add details, entries or further sources. To add information to this story, go to EDIT and submit a revision. For more guidance, take a look at How to Add to an Existing Story, the Style Guide, and How to Write a Piece of Journalism for WikiTribune.

The Winter Olympics 2018 ended Sunday February 25 after an apparently successful competition featuring a joint team from South Korea, which hosted, and North Korea. However the political tensions surrounding the games were by no means solved in a global event that was “as political as it was athlethic” (AP).

Relations between the two Koreas seemed to have progressed, with agencies reporting senior officials from Pyongyang said their government was open to talks with the United States. South Korean President Moon Jae-in met members of the North’s delegation at the weekend. Moon also urged both the U.S. and Pyongyang to be accommodating and talk to each other about North Korea’s nuclear programme. “There is a need for the United States to lower the threshold for talks with North Korea and North Korea should show it is willing to denuclearize,” Moon said in a statement.

But the U.S. announced a new package of sanctions against North Korea on February 23, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a strong written statement after Sunday’s closing ceremony.

“We will see if Pyongyang’s message today, that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization,” she said. “In the meantime, the United States and the world must continue to make clear that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are a dead end.”

At a news conference last week, President Donald Trump warned of further action if the sanctions did not achieve their aim: “If the sanctions don’t work we’ll have to go phase two  – and phase two may be a very rough thing, may be very, very unfortunate for the world,” he said. “It [North Korea] really is a rogue nation.” (See previous WikiTribune coverage of U.S. sanctions.)

Vice-President Mike Pence attended the opening ceremony on February 9. The New York Times reported that it was the North Korean side which then refused to hold a formal meeting with Pence. In 2017 a war of words between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un featured the president threatening the so-called Hermit Kingdom with “fire and fury like the world has never seen (YouTube)” last August.

Previously

February 22: A North Korean leader who is blamed for the deaths of 46 South Korean sailors will lead the North’s delegation at the Winter Olympics closing ceremony, Reuters reports. Kim Chong-yol, now vice-chairman of the Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, was head of an intelligence agency believed to have caused the 2010 sinking of the corvette ROKS Cheonan. 

North Korea has always denied any responsibility.

February 14: South Korea is paying some costs of the North Korean contingent at the Winter Olympics, the BBC reports. According to the Washington Post, the bill will be around $2.6 million (£1.9m).

Seoul will pay mainly for accommodation and food for Pyongyang’s cheer squad, an orchestra, and some taekwondo performers and supporting personnel. The International Olympic Federation is paying the costs of 22 major athletes from the North. However South Korea will foot the bill for the delegation of senior North Korean officials, including the sister of Kim Jong-un.

Supreme leader Kim Jong-un thanked South Korea for “specially prioritizing” the North’s attendance at the Games, North Korean state news agency KCNA reported, (BBC and The Guardian).

Kim referred to “a warm climate of reconciliation and dialogue” after a delegation including his sister returned from Pyeongchang.

February 11: U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence said new diplomatic talks between his country, North Korea, and South Korea are in prospect, as he returned from a brief visit to the 2018 Winter Olympics.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Pence spoke of “maximum pressure and engagement at the same time.” He was on his way back to the U.S. on board Air Force Two. A summit meeting between the leaders of the two Koreas is possible, he added.

Pence shook hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but not with Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s sister. Moon shook hands with all, including Kim.

North Korea decided to hold a military parade on Thursday which was initially scheduled for April. It was the first time in 40 years that the annual parade was held in February. The BBC saw this as a setback to any possible thaw in relations between the two Koreas ahead of the Olympics.

February 8: North Korea said it will not have meetings with U.S. officials during the Olympics, despite the presence of U.S. Vice-President Pence.

“Explicitly speaking, we have no intention to meet with the U.S. side during the stay … Our delegation’s visit to South Korea is only to take part in the Olympics and hail its successful holding,” Reuters reported, quoting Jo Yong-sam, a director-general in the North’s foreign ministry.

Pence will attend the opening ceremony, and, according to The Guardian, be seated a short distance from Kim Yo-jong.

February 7: Athletes from North and South Korea will march under one blue-and-white flag at the formal opening of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on February 9.

U.S. Vice-President Pence, who yesterday gave a cautionary speech in Japan, will head his country’s delegation.

Just over 30 years ago, the North’s determination to ruin the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul caused the deaths of 115 people in November 1987 on Korean Airlines flight 858.

Two North Korean agents, who boarded the plane and left a concealed bomb before leaving the flight at a way-stop, had been commissioned to destroy it as part of a campaign to cause fear in the run-up to the Olympics.

Despite recent rhetoric, things have changed so much that a senior delegation including Kim Yo-jong, will attend the games. The united front under a common flag has happened before, at international table tennis and soccer events as well as Olympics, but not since 2008.

Apart from the two Koreas relationship, Russia has been banned from competing officially because of doping contraventions. However, some Russian athletes are permitted to compete, but as neutral individuals.

And – although it is a series of snow-and-ice events – fears have been expressed that the weather will be so cold that spectators might be deterred (National Public Radio). On February 7, the temperature in Pyeongchang was around 11 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 11 Celsius.)

To add information to this story, go to EDIT and submit a revision. For more guidance, take a look at How to Add to an Existing Story, the Style Guide, and How to Write a Piece of Journalism for WikiTribune.

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