US threatens new N. Korea sanctions ahead of Olympics
US Vice President Mike Pence vowed tough new sanctions against North Korea Wednesday, two days before he is due to attend the winter Olympics in South Korea, along with two of the North’s most senior officials.
Speaking in Tokyo on his way to South Korea, which is hosting the Games in Pyeongchang over the next three weeks, Pence said he would soon announce the stepped-up sanctions in an effort to pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear and missile programs.
The Games, being staged 80 kilometers from the heavily militarized border between the two Koreas, is set for an awkward political encounter, with Pence as well as the North Korean leader’s younger sister attending Friday’s opening ceremony.
South Korea wants to use the event to re-engage with the North and pave the way for talks to resolve a political crisis widely regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous, with US President Donald Trump and Pyongyang swapping nuclear threats.
“I’m announcing today the United States of America will soon unveil the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever,” Pence said.
“We will continue to isolate North Korea until it abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile program once and for all.”
As his guest at the opening ceremony, Pence is taking the father of Otto Warmbier, an American student who died last year after being imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months.
Sitting in the same stadium as VIP guests will be Kim Yo Jong, 28-year-old sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly.
Kim Yo Jong would be the first member of the Kim family to cross the border to the South. “It shows the North’s resolve to defuse tension on the Korean peninsula,” South Korean spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told a news briefing.
Meanwhile, a group of 280 North Koreans arrived in South Korea, one of the largest peacetime crossings of the inter-Korean border, to spur on athletes from the two sides at the Winter Olympics.
The group included a 229-member cheer squad as well as taekwondo performers, journalists and four North Korean Olympics committee members, including the sports minister.