Pence raises prospect of U.S. talks with N. Korea without pre-conditions

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"This is the strongest action yet by North Korea to drive a wedge between the South and the United States", South Korea's former vice foreign minister Kim Sung-han told the news service.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang "at an early date", South Korean officials said on Saturday, potentially setting up the first meeting of Korean leaders in more than 10 years.

"I am very confident, as President Trump is, that President Moon will continue to stand strongly with us in our extreme-pressure campaign", Pence told NBC in an interview, maintaining all options were open to deal with the crisis.

"The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization", Pence was quoted as saying.

Washington has pursued a strategy of exerting maximum pressure on Pyongyang through tough sanctions and harsh rhetoric, demanding it give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons. "But if you want to talk, we'll talk".

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence also attended the Games opening ceremony but had no contact with the North Korean delegation.

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"I think this overture towards South Korea is partly sanctions-related, and also related to the fact that it's clear a divergence has developed between Washington and Seoul's most keenly desired goals in the near term", said Andray Abrahamian, a research fellow at Pacific Forum CSIS in Hawaii.

"President Moon must balance his desire for North-South reconciliation with his policy of denuclearization", Manning said.

Invited by Moon for lunch at Seoul's presidential palace, Kim Yo Jong verbally delivered her brother's hope for a summit with Moon in Pyongyang, a meeting that she said would help significantly improve ties after an extended period of animosity.

After North Korea stalled for months before even announcing that it would take part in the Pyeongchang Olympics, the Games have turned into an occasion for a stunning rapprochement on the Korean peninsula.

During the visit, Kim Yo Jong had delivered a letter from her brother asking South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang at his earliest convenience.

"If it leads to promises of aid, then it would definitely undermine the maximum pressure strategy", Gause said, referring to the proposed summit between the two Koreas.

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Kim Yo Jong and her delegation spent three days dining with top government officials, watching the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and cheering for the united women's ice hockey team the two Koreas have fielded at this Olympics.

It's too early to say, Mattis said, "if using the Olympics in a way to reduce tension - if that's going to have any traction once the Olympics are over".

Seoul made a standing offer to North Korea a year ago regarding another such reunion, details of which have yet to be hammered out between North and South Korea.

The meeting led to a series of reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, as well as the launch of a joint factory park in the North's border town of Kaesong in 2004.

The Unification Ministry said steps regarding the improvement of ties would be led by the two Koreas, but also in cooperation with related countries and the support of the worldwide community.

North Korea has made clear that it does not intend to negotiate away its nuclear and missile programs in return for relief from global sanctions.

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