Pence vows ‘toughest and most aggressive’ economic sanctions against N. Korea

Pence vows ‘toughest and most aggressive’ economic sanctions against N. Korea
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera talk during their meeting at the Defense Ministry on Wednesday in Tokyo. Pence is in Japan ahead of attending the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

Two days before attending the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Olympics, Vice President Mike Pence warned North Korea that the U.S. will maintain its unyielding stance in dealing the country’s nuclear missile program. North Korea will attend the games under a unification flag with South Korea.

According to Reuters, Pence made the comments in Tokyo after a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“I’m announcing today the United States of America will soon unveil the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever,” Pence said. “We will continue to isolate North Korea until it abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile program once and for all.”

He added: “We will not allow North Korea to hide behind the Olympic banner the reality that they enslave their people and threaten the wider region.”

What are Pence’s plans for the Olympics?

Pence will attend the opening ceremony as part of his five-day tour of Asia and will be accompanied by Fred Warmbier, whose 22-year-old son, Otto Warmbier, died after being imprisoned in North Korea.

Pence told reporters in Alaska during a layover Tuesday the he has not ruled out a meeting with North Korean officials while attending the 2018 Games.

“I have not requested a meeting, but we’ll see what happens,” Pence said, adding that “all options are on the table.” He also said that he would use the visit to tell “the truth about North Korea at every stop.”

“We’re traveling to the Olympics to make sure that North Korea doesn’t use the powerful symbolism and the backdrop of the Winter Olympics to paper over the truth about their regime,” he said.

Pence called it “a regime that oppresses its own people, a regime that threatens nations around the world, a regime that continues its headlong rush to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.”

He added: “President Trump has said he always believes in talking.”

Pence’s direct approach Wednesday has characterized much of the dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea. During an emergency United Nations meeting in November, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley unequivocally denounced North Korea for launching a Hwasong-15 ballistic missile.

“The dictator of North Korea made a choice yesterday that brings the world closer to war, not farther from it,” Haley said. “We have never sought war with North Korea, and still today we do not seek it. If war does come, it will be because of continued acts of aggression like we witnessed yesterday. And if war comes, make no mistake, the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed.”

Relations between North Korea and South Korea have been notably amiable since the year began, starting with Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s Day speech, during which he said that North Koreans “earnestly wish” to join the upcoming Olympics.

In response, South Korean officials agreed to meet with North Korean officials, marking the first face-to-face talk between North Korea and South Korea in two years, which South Korean President Moon Jae-in credited President Donald Trump “for bringing about the inter-Korean talks.”

As a result, they agreed to form the first joint Olympic team for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, including a unified women’s ice hockey team.

The sudden uptick in amiability has come as a shock to many international observers. Throughout last year, much of the world nervously watched North Korea’s increasingly unpredictable actions, including a ballistic missile test in late November, the possible spread of “ghost disease,” and multiple accusations of ransomware attacks.