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U.S. hopes N.K. official pays tribute to slain S. Korean sailors

All Headlines 07:45 February 23, 2018

WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 (Yonhap) -- The United States said Thursday that a ranking North Korean official should use his planned visit to South Korea to pay tribute to the victims of 2010 attacks that he is said to have masterminded.

Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the ruling Workers' Party Central Committee, plans to lead a high-level delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics closing ceremony Sunday.

He is suspected of masterminding the 2010 sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, which killed 46 South Korean sailors on board, as well as the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, which killed four South Koreans.

"I think first we would hope that he would take the opportunity to go to that memorial; to go to the memorial and see what he (is) believed to have been responsible for," Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, said during a regular press briefing, referring to the hall where the wreckage of the torpedoed ship is on display.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited the memorial during his recent visit to South Korea to attend the opening ceremony of the Games. There, he urged Pyongyang to "permanently abandon" its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile ambitions.

Kim's planned visit has angered conservatives in South Korea and raised questions about possible violations of South Korean and U.S. sanctions against the regime. The official has been blacklisted by both countries for his role in the North's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

"We are in close coordination with the Republic of Korea," Nauert said, referring further questions to the Seoul government.

Meanwhile, Pence was to meet secretly with a separate North Korean delegation after the opening ceremony to make it "crystal clear" that the U.S. policy goal is the regime's denuclearization, she said. But the North Koreans "apparently did not like that" and pulled out at the last minute.

The canceled meeting was first reported by The Washington Post earlier this week and confirmed by the U.S. government.

"A lot of people would have been happy" had Pence had the opportunity to deliver that message during the meeting, Nauert added.


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