Posted : 2018-01-12 16:29
Updated : 2018-01-12 18:05

Will PyeongChang bring US, North Korea back to table?

By Yi Whan-woo

After the two Koreas agreed to resume dialogue, hopes are running high there will also be positive changes in the relations between United States and North Korea.

And the PyeongChang Winter Olympics may provide them a platform for dialogue.

North Korea's state media has recently refrained from cursing the U.S., and U.S. President Donald Trump, Wednesday, signaled his openness to talks with the North "under the right circumstances."

The U.S. Department of State on Thursday downplayed the possibility of their possible talks. But the high-level talks between the two Koreas early this week are fueling optimism it may also help Washington and Pyongyang move toward a thaw.

Analysts raised the possibility on a meeting between U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Choe Ryong-hae, who has emerged as North Korea's No. 2 man recently, if its leader Kim Jong-un decides to send Choe to PyeongChang.

Trump has already decided to send Pence to lead the U.S. delegation to the Olympics, slated for Feb. 9 to 25. But Kim has not determined who will lead the Olympic delegation.

"North Korea will certainly take it into account after Pence was confirmed to join the PyeongChang Olympics," said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University. "It may want to send someone who can match Pence in terms of rank and protocol."

Some diplomatic sources pointed out Kim Jong-un's younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, may come to PyeongChang as well, if Trump's eldest daughter Ivanka attends the Olympics.

Ivanka Trump has been one of South Korea's sought-after guests for its first Winter Games, although it remains uncertain whether she will come.

A North Korea expert said Pence and Choe may not have "productive" talks even if they both attend the Olympics and have a chance to chat.

"Pence may briefly touch on issues of denuclearization of the North on the occasion of the Olympics, but nothing more," said Go Myong-hyun, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. "The explorative talks between the two sides will be meaningful if North Korea ever hints at its denuclearization. But it has not done so yet."

Meanwhile, Trump suggested he could have a good relationship with Kim Jong-un. But he refused to say if the two have spoken.

"I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un," he told The Wall Street Journal during an interview, Thursday. "I have relationships with people. I think you people are surprised."

Washington has been stepping up its pressure on the repressive state. On Jan. 16, the U.S. and Canada will co-host a foreign ministerial meeting in Vancouver among 16 countries to discuss North Korea's nuclear crisis.

Many of the 16 countries were part of the U.N.-led coalition during the 1950-53 Korean War, as well as other important parties such as Japan, India and Sweden, according to the State Department.

China and Russia, shareholders of security on the Korean Peninsula, are excluded.

State Department director of policy planning Brian Hook said Washington is working with Beijing on enforcing sanctions against Pyongyang. He also said China and Russia will be briefed about the meeting later.

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