Pence to North Korea: ‘Maximum pressure’ will continue, ‘but if you want to talk, we’ll talk’

Pence to North Korea: ‘Maximum pressure’ will continue, ‘but if you want to talk, we’ll talk’
Vice President Mike Pence watches short track speed skating at Gangneung Ice Arena on Saturday in Gangneung, South Korea. Pence watched Friday night's opening ceremony in close proximity to North Korea's ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam and Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

In an interview with the Washington Post’s Josh Roglin on Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence hinted that the U.S. might pursue direct talks with the North Korean government. However, he warned that the talks will take place only if North Koreans comply with demands to denuclearize.

“The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization,” Pence said. “So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.”

During Pence’s five-day visit to Asia, Pence and South Korean President Moon Jae-in spoke with one another on two occasions — at the Blue House in Seoul on Thursday before attending the Olympic Games’ opening ceremonies, and a speedskating event on Saturday. During the first meeting, Pence and Moon agreed that North Korea must take steps toward denuclearization, otherwise sanctions will continue. Pence saw the breakthrough as a unique improvement to previous relations with North Korea.

“I think it is different from the last 20 years,” he said.

South Korea has increasingly taken on an intermediary role between the U.S. and North Korea.

During the second meeting, the two leaders discussed concrete ways that the U.S. and North Korea could improve relations. In every scenario, talking was the first step.

“Moon told me at the skating rink that he told [the North Koreans], ‘You’ve got to talk to the Americans,’ ” Pence said.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters in Egypt Monday that it remains to be seen whether North Korea will reciprocate.

“We’ve said for some time it’s really up to the North Koreans to decide when they’re ready to engage with us in a sincere way, a meaningful way,” Tillerson said.

“They know what has to be on the table for conversations.”