Pence and South Korea pursue wildly different strategies during Olympic Games

The VP is reluctant to engage in so much as a handshake, but the Koreas are making historic diplomatic inroads.

Kim Yong Nam, top left, president of the Presidium of North Korean Parliament, and Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, top right, sit behind U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, bottom left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, bottom right, as they watch the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium on February 9, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.  CREDIT: Patrick Semansky/Pool /Getty Images
Kim Yong Nam, top left, president of the Presidium of North Korean Parliament, and Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, top right, sit behind U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, bottom left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, bottom right, as they watch the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium on February 9, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. CREDIT: Patrick Semansky/Pool /Getty Images

Against the background of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, North and South Korean leaders are planning to meet for the first time in over a decade, Seoul announced on Saturday.

So, while Vice President Mike Pence has made no effort to extend a diplomatic hand — he actually avoided shaking hands with Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, attending the Winter Games — and refused to stand up for any national anthem other than that of the U.S., North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s Jae-in Moon are planning to meet in Pyongyang.

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The invitation, reports Reuters, was delivered by Kim Yo Jong, and has been “practically” accepted by Moon. Leaders of the Koreas last met in 2007.

This meeting would be a diplomatic high-water mark on the Korean Peninsula since President Donald Trump has increased tensions with North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Since July, Trump has engaged in a campaign of name-calling and outright threats, vowing to “totally destroy” North Korea before the U.N. General Assembly.

Meanwhile, Pence, who was sent to Pyeongchang for the opening of the Winter Games, preceded his arrival there with a number of public appearances in Asia during which he criticized North Korea’s diplomatic attempts as a ruse to “cloud the reality” of the regime. He took with him the parents of Otto Warmbier, the university student who died late last year after suffering horrific injuries while in North Korean detention, and promised more sanctions against Pyongyang.

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Bloomberg reported that Pence made a five-minute appearance at a Friday night reception held by Moon, and didn’t speak to North Korea’s ceremonial head of state at the Winter Games, Kim Yong Nam, who was supposed to be seated at the same table as Pence.

The vice president returned to the U.S. on Saturday having made no effort to ease the tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. In fact, it seems like every move he made was designed to heighten hostilities.

Although Pence said that he is open to the idea of talking to North Korean officials, he had not asked for such a meeting. And while the vice president seems to be dodging diplomatic engagement, the U.S.’s disarmament envoy at the U.N. accused North Korea of a “charm offensive” that is “frankly fooling no one.”

Regardless of U.S. response, North and South Korea seem more interested in finding an off-ramp from these tensions — in January, North Korea opened up a phone line that had been closed for about two years. The line — used as a hotline to South Korea — originates in what is known as the “truce village”  of Panmunjom and the 20-minute call made on it was the first public sign of a detente between Pyongyang and Seoul.

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Certainly no one has accused the U.S. of mounting a charm offensive: While Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that he’s interested in speaking to his North Korean counterpart, President Trump has thwarted those efforts, calling them “a waste of time.”

Amid talks of pre-emptive and preventive strikes against North Korea — both of which, experts have told ThinkProgress, could result in a catastrophic loss of life on the Korean Peninsula — the Trump administration also backed away from appointing Victor Cha to the ambassadorial post in Seoul after Cha spoke out against a “bloody nose” strike against North Korea, leaving the crucial diplomatic post unfilled.

CLARIFICATION: The headline of this piece was updated after publication to better convey the content of the article.