PYEONGTAEK, Korea, Republic Of —
Eager to put a reality check on the thaw in relations between the two Koreas in advance of the games, Pence met with North Korean defectors Friday and paid respects at the Cheonan Memorial in Pyeongtaek, which
During his meeting with the four defectors, including some who had been tortured and abused by the North, Pence warned that the world would see "a charm offensive by North Korea" Friday. "But today we thought it was important to make sure the truth is told."
"As these people and their lives testify, it is a regime that imprisons, and tortures, and impoverishes its citizens," he added.
Pence, who will lead the U.S. delegation to the opening ceremonies Friday evening, met Thursday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to press for a more clear-eyed approach toward the nuclear-armed
Pence avoided public criticism of Moon, congratulating South Korea on hosting the games and pledging continued support in addressing the North's nuclear threat. But privately, officials said, Pence expressed concern to Moon about his more conciliatory tone toward North Korea.
Moon, for his part, took the opportunity to highlight the visit of North Korean officials to the global competition, referring to the "Olympic Games of peace." He added his hope that it becomes "a venue that leads to dialogue for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
The games will be attended by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister and other senior officials. And female ice hockey players from both Koreas will compete as one team.
Pence's personal guest at the games will be Fred Warmbier, the father of Otto Warmbier, an American who died last year days after his release from captivity in North Korea.
Before departing Japan for Korea earlier Thursday, Pence warned that past attempts to pursue openings with the North have been met with "
He also ratcheted up his rhetoric on the North's human rights abuses in a speech to U.S. service members at Yokota Air Base in Japan.
"As we speak, an estimated 100,000 North Korean citizens
Pence also has promised the U.S. will soon unveil "the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever."
Aides acknowledged that the
Pence told reporters that despite disagreements over how to approach North Korea, the state of the alliance between the U.S. and South Korea is "strong."
Administration officials said they had long expected the North would seek to use the Olympics, taking place just 50 miles (80
On Wednesday, the North announced that Kim Yo Jong, the sister of dictator Kim Jong-un, would attend the games, joining the country's nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam. A top North Korean official seemed to rule out a potential meeting with U.S. officials in the North's state-run media on Thursday, but Pence suggested to reporters that it was still a possibility.
"We haven't requested a meeting with North Korea, but if I have any contact with them — in any context — over the next two days, my message will be the same as it was here today: North Korea needs to once and for all abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions," Pence said.
Zeke Miller, The Associated Press