Mike Pence avoids handshake with N. Korea delegate ahead of Olympics Opening Ceremony

South Korean President Moon Jae-in held a reception for international delegates ahead of Friday’s Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony in PyeongChang.

Vice President Mike Pence, the leader of the the U.S. delegation, was among 12 leaders invited to sit at the head table, where he was expected to sit across from Kim Yong Nam, the President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and representative from North Korea.

That did not happen. Pence made a brief appearance and left early to meet with U.S. athletes prior to the Opening ceremony, South Korean officials told Reuters. He did not take a seat, but met and shook hands with other leaders, including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, according to the report.

He left without interacting with Kim Yong Nam.

Pence did, however, sit near Kim Yong Nam and Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong at the Opening Ceremony, thanks to a seating arrangement that was out of his control. He did not interact with them, while Moon shook hands with Kim Yo Jong.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong attend the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony. (Reuters)
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong attend the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony. (Reuters)

Pence also met with defectors on Friday, some of whom had been tortured in North Korea, where he warned of the country using the Olympics to put on a “charm offensive.”

“Today we thought it was important to make sure the truth is told,” Pence said of North Korea. “As these people and their lives testify, it is a regime that imprisons, and tortures, and impoverishes its citizens.”

While Moon has sought to use the Olympics as a chance to thaw relations with South Korea’s adversarial neighbors from the North through diplomacy, Pence is using his presence in PyeongChang to keep the spotlight on North Korea’s history of human rights atrocities.

“As we speak, an estimated 100,000 North Korean citizens are labor in modern-day gulags,” Pence said in speech to U.S. service members at Yokota Air Base in Japan before he arrived in South Korea. “Those who dare raise their voices in dissent are imprisoned, tortured, and even murdered, and their children and grandchildren are routinely punished for their family’s sins against the state.”

Pence was also critical Friday of a military parade that North Korea held on the eve of the Olympics, contrasting it with a planned military parade in the U.S. at the behest of President Donald Trump.

“Make no mistake about it, what we witnessed in Pyongyang, and we witnessed again yesterday, on the eve of the Olympics — what President Moon said last night, he hopes will be an Olympics of peace — was once again an effort on the part of the regime in Pyongyang to display their ballistic missiles,” Pence told reporters, “to display a military that continues to make menacing threats across the region and across the wider world.

“I think in the United States of America, just as in France — where the president was impressed on Bastille Day — we can celebrate our troops, not in any way ever be associated with the provocations of the North.”

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Pence avoids shaking hands with North Korean delegate before Opening Ceremony

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