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(2nd LD) Chief delegates of U.S., N. Korea meet briefly at Olympic reception

2018/02/09 19:31

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(ATTN: UPDATES with more information, minor changes in paras 5-6, 9; ADDS photos)

SEOUL, Feb. 9 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence briefly encountered North Korea's ceremonial head of state, Kim Yong-nam, Friday at a reception dinner hosted by South Korean President Moon Jae-in ahead of the opening of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

The two, however, apparently tried to avoid directly facing each other, with Pence leaving the venue only after a five-minute stay, according to pool reports.

Pence was originally scheduled to sit at the head table with the South Korean host and North Korea's chief delegate to the Winter Games.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (R) toasts North Korea's ceremonial head of States Kim Yong-nam in a reception held in Yongpyeong, 200 kilometers east of Seoul, just before the opening of the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games on Feb. 9, 2018. (Yonhap) South Korean President Moon Jae-in (R) toasts North Korea's ceremonial head of States Kim Yong-nam in a reception held in Yongpyeong, 200 kilometers east of Seoul, just before the opening of the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games on Feb. 9, 2018. (Yonhap)

The reception was held at a hotel in Yongpyeong, just east of the host city of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games. It was attended by some 200 people, including more than two dozen global leaders, including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the presidents of Estonia and Germany.

Moon's chief press secretary Yoon Young-chan later explained that the U.S. vice president was originally scheduled to hold separate dinner with U.S. athletes at the PyeongChang Olympic Games, insisting his early departure did not mean a boycott.

Still, it was widely believed to reflect U.S. suspicions toward the recent rapprochement between the two Koreas.

North Korea agreed to take part in the Winter Olympic Games after three rounds of inter-Korean dialogue last month that marked the first of their kind in more than two years.

In a meeting with the South Korean president on Thursday, the U.S. vice president said his country will continue to put maximum pressure on the North until the reclusive state comes to the dialogue table to discuss its "permanent" and "irreversible" denuclearization.

Moon, on the other hand, has repeatedly stressed the need to keep the inter-Korean dialogue moving forward, so they may lead to a resumption of international negotiations on ending the North's nuclear ambitions.

Pence arrived here Thursday while Kim and other North Korean delegates, including North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's younger sister Yo-jong, arrived earlier in the day.

Kim and the North Korean leader's sister are scheduled to hold a meeting with Moon on Saturday.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (C) poses for a photo with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a reception held in Yongpyeong, 200 kilometers east of Seoul, before the opening of the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games on Feb. 9, 2018. (Yonhap) South Korean President Moon Jae-in (C) poses for a photo with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a reception held in Yongpyeong, 200 kilometers east of Seoul, before the opening of the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games on Feb. 9, 2018. (Yonhap)

At the Olympic reception, the North Korean official was still joined by several other global leaders, including Abe and the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, and his wife, according to Seoul's presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.

On Thursday, North Korea said its official delegation to the PyeongChang Olympics had no intention of meetings its U.S. counterpart.

"We have never begged for dialogue with the U.S. and will be the same in the future," Cho Yong-sam, a senior official at the North's foreign ministry, was quoted as saying by the communist state's official Korean Central News Agency.

bdk@yna.co.kr

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