The Winter Olympics is bringing North Korea and South Korea closer than they have been in years to a diplomatic thaw that could lead to easing military tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, but the United States continues to ratchet up tensions in the region.
The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that Vice President Mike Pence, heading to the South Korea to lead the U.S. delegation in the opening ceremonies for the games, has “no plans” to meet with North Korea. Although he has not said that he absolutely won’t meet with North Korean officials, Pence has not “requested any meeting.”
Furthermore, the vice president has vowed to tell “the truth about North Korea at every stop” on his Asian trip.
Pence, it seems, is worried that “whatever cooperation that’s existing between North and South Korea today on Olympic teams” might “cloud the reality of a regime that must continue to be isolated by the world community.”
To make sure that no one misses the point, Pence will take with him the grieving parents of Otto Warmbier, who died last year after being detained in North Korea for 17 months. Warmbier, a 21-year-old University of Virginia student, was arrested while he was visiting the country in 2016 with a tour group. He was returned back to the United States in a horrific state — with severe brain injuries — and died less than a week later.
Meanwhile the United States — which under the presidency of Donald Trump has been engaging in increasingly heated rhetoric with North Korea — seems to be moving closer to a first-strike position against North Korea.
Both a preventive strike (carried out without a present and immediate threat) and a pre-emptive strike are being considered. But experts have told ThinkProgress that the idea of giving North Korea a “bloody nose” as a warning would be a “huge mistake” with the potential for “absolutely catastrophic” consequences.
But this is clearly an option the administration wants to keep at the table, and that was made clear with the recent about-face on naming Victor Cha as the next U.S. ambassador to Seoul, a post the Trump administration has yet to fill despite the diplomatic tensions with North Korea.
Cha, a Republican and a highly respected academic, was cut loose because he expressed opposition to the use of a first-strike against North Korea, worrying it “could start a nuclear war.”
Just last week, CIA Director Mike Pompeo dusted off his line about North Korea being able to launch a nuclear attack against the United States in a “handful of months.”
That claim was made again by the United States on Tuesday at a U.N. conference on disarmament in Geneva, with U.S. disarmament envoy Robert Wood telling the forum he feels the North Korean “‘charm offensive’ frankly is fooling no one.”
This was not lost on North Korea, which countered that the United States — seeking to expand its nuclear capabilities — is considering a pre-emptive strike.
“U.S. officials including the defense secretary and the CIA director repeatedly talked about DPRK nuclear and missile threat to justify their argument for a military option and a new concept of a so-called ‘bloody nose,’ a limited pre-emptive strike on the DPRK is under consideration within the U.S. administration,” said North Korean diplomat Ju Yong Chol, according to Reuters.