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(2nd LD) N.K. says it has no willingness to meet with U.S. at Olympics

All Headlines 11:22 February 08, 2018

(ATTN: ADDS more details throughout)

SEOUL, Feb. 8 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's high-level delegation for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics has no willingness to meet with its U.S. counterpart when it travels to South Korea this week, the North's state media said Thursday.

North Korea said Wednesday it would send Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of the North's leader Kim Jong-un, as a member of the high-level delegation led by the nominal head of state Kim Yong-nam to South Korea for a three-day visit starting Friday.

"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 North Korea's foreign minister was quoted as saying by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

"We clearly state that we don't have a willingness to meet with the U.S. side during our visit to South Korea."

This photo, carried by North Korea's newspaper Rodong Sinmun, shows a report saying North Korea has no intention to meet with the U.S. delegation on the sidelines of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will lead the U.S. delegation for the Feb. 9-25 Winter Olympics. His trip is raising cautious expectations about possible U.S.-North Korea contact on the sidelines of the sporting event.

The State Department said Tuesday that the U.S. has no plans to meet with North Korean officials on the fringe of the Olympics.

Pence was earlier quoted as saying, "(The U.S.) will not allow North Korean propaganda to hijack the message and imagery of the Olympic Games."

The two Koreas have engaged in sports diplomacy since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un extended a rare olive branch to Seoul in his New Year's Day message, after years of tensions sparked by the North's nuclear and missile provocations.

But some experts said that the North is making a "deceptive" peace offensive to weaken international sanctions and drive a wedge into the decadeslong alliance between Seoul and Washington by sending a delegation to the games.

The U.S. is employing a "maximum pressure" campaign with economic and diplomatic sanctions to force Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Pence said Wednesday that Washington will soon unveil its toughest-ever economic sanctions on North Korea to spur the North's denuclearization, according to foreign reports.

Experts said that for the North, there would be no benefit in seeking talks with the U.S., given Washington's steadfast stance on international sanctions.

Liberal President Moon Jae-in reportedly hopes that the U.S. and North Korea could have contact with each other in the South when their high-ranking officials visit here.

During phone talks with U.S. President Donald Trump last week, Moon expressed hopes that Vice President Mike Pence's upcoming visit will help the peace-building process on the Korean Peninsula, according to the presidential office.

"If the North does not want a meeting with the U.S. at all, it would probably have struck a stronger tone in expressing its stance," a government official said.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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