North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's rare invitation to South Korean President Moon Jae In to visit Pyongyang underscores the nascent thaw in inter-Korean ties, but Seoul's excessively conciliatory stance to Pyongyang may serve to accelerate the nuclear crisis.
To add to the political intrigue, US Vice President Mike Pence, sitting a few seats away in the same VIP booth, looked stone-faced as the ceremony unfolded.
"As they marched in together, South Korean president Moon Jae-in shook hands with North Korean president Kim Yong-nam and Kim Yo-jong, the sister of Kim Jong-un".
"Pence sat in front row and talked to Moon and Abe and their spouses, and the North Koreans sat in the back and didn't talk to anybody, and that image is telling", the officials said. As US President Donald Trump threatened to use military force to destroy Pyongyang's nuclear capabilities, a new left-wing government in Seoul took several symbolic steps to deflate the tension, including agreeing to have a joint athletic delegation with North Korea at the Olympics.
President Trump has traded insults with North Korea's leader and has led efforts to slap sanctions on the country for its refusal to yield to global pressure to halt its nuclear weapons program. The North Koreans were in the room at the same time as Pence, an official said.
"For North Korea, dialogue was instead the best means of deceiving us and buying time", he added.
It happened during a historic meeting between North and South Korean officials at Seoul's presidential palace. "It's good that the two Koreas are trying to improve relations, although I can't help but have some reservations", Um Sung-soo, a 37-year-old office worker from Ulsan City, told UPI.
Many observers remain suspicious of North Korea's intentions, given the regime's history of brutality and aggression.
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North and South Korea are technically still at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty. During his visit to South Korea, where he led the American Olympic delegation, Pence has criticized North Korea's Olympic cooperation as a propaganda campaign to improve its image and weaken worldwide support for sanctions.
North Korean media lauded the players and supporters of the unified Korean women's ice hockey team Sunday (Feb 11) after their first match at the Olympics - without mentioning their 8-0 drubbing.
In his address to the U.N. General Assembly in NY in September, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe already pointed out that talking with North Korea wastes time.
Yoon Young-seok, an opposition party member of parliament and chairman of the foreign affairs and unification committee, said he is skeptical of the initiative because it doesn't contain a specific plan toward getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. He urged the North to resume talks with the United States.
"Her being here is not that bad, but I feel North Korea has shown up to the Olympics without paying", said Yoon Jun-young, 23, indicating that the nation hasn't made any political concessions to mirror its participation on the worldwide sporting stage.
"I think Kim Jong Un is really a bad person and a villain", said Park Keon-ho, 24, a computer science student at Korea University of Technology and Education. Moon asked the North Korean delegation during Saturday's meeting to more actively seek dialogue with the United States, saying that "early resumption of dialogue (between the two) is absolutely necessary for developments in the inter-Korean relations as well", the South said.
Among the crowd was a large number of North Korea's all- female "Army of Beauties" cheer squad, known for their tightly choreographed moves and chants.