U.S. Vice President Mike Pence left South Korea Saturday saying the U.S. and its allies are more committed than ever to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs.
“We are going to continue to stand together, along with our other allies and partners, to continue to intensify the economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea until they permanently abandon their nuclear, ballistic missile program,” Pence told reporters aboard Air Force Two on a return flight to the United States.
The vice president said he was “encouraged” by bilateral discussions with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Moon’s talks with members of North Korea’s delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympics, which included Kim Yo Jong, the influential and younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
When asked if his commitment to the denuclearization of North Korea is personal because his father served in the Korean War, Pence responded, “The whole global community is committed, with a few exceptions, to denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. And I share that.”
Pence, President Moon and top representatives from North Korea shared a VIP box at Friday’s opening of the Olympics, although Pence avoided interaction with the North Korean officials.
Pence and his wife, Karen, sat next to Moon, in the same row as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The Pences donned the red, white and blue Team USA winter jackets.
The North Koreans — Kim Yong Nam and Kim Yo Jong — were also in the box, seated in a row behind the Pences.
Kim Yo Jong is a key adviser to her brother. She is the first member of the North’s longtime ruling family to visit the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
According to Pence’s office, there was “no interaction” between the U.S. vice president and the North Korean officials.
“He [Pence] could have sat with the U.S. delegation and avoided the box but he chose not to … knowing the North Koreans would be seated behind him,” said a U.S. official. The vice president wanted to show the “alliance was strong” by sitting with Moon and Abe. However, “If they [the North Koreans] had approached him (in the box), he would have responded,” added the official.
The United Nations allowed the North Korean delegation to travel to South Korea for the Olympics, granting an exemption on sanctions against the repressive regime.
During the trip, Pence has kept up pressure on the North over its nuclear ambitions and human rights record.
Fred Warmbier attended the opening ceremony as Pence’s guest. His son, Otto Warmbier, died after being returned to the U.S. with extensive brain damage he suffered while being detained in North Korea.
VOA’s Brian Padden contributed to this report.