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North Korea has 'no intention' to meet US in South

North Korean cheerleaders arrive at the Inje Speedium north of Pyeongchang
JUNG Yeon-Je (AFP)
'We have never begged for dialogue with the US and will never do so'

North Korea has no intention to meet US officials during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in the South, Pyongyang's state media said Thursday, ahead of a military parade the day before the Games' opening ceremony.

The nuclear-armed North is on an Olympics-linked publicity drive -- sending a troupe of performers, hundreds of female cheerleaders, and the sister of leader Kim Jong Un to the South.

But at the same time thousands of troops and hundreds of armored vehicles have been seen rehearsing for what would be a show of strength in the center of the capital.

Analysts say that with the dual approach, the North is looking to normalize its status as a "de facto nuclear state", and could be trying to weaken the sanctions regime against it or drive a wedge between the South and its ally the US.

"We have no intention whatsoever to meet US authorities during our visit to the South," Cho Yong Sam, a senior foreign ministry official, was quoted as saying by the North's official KCNA news agency.

"We have never begged for dialogue with the US and will never do so," he said.

But his comments did not rule out a meeting -- and nor has US Vice President Mike Pence, who is due in the South on Thursday.

North Korea is under multiple sets of UN Security Council sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, which have seen it develop rockets capable of reaching the US mainland.

Both Kim Yong Nam, the North's ceremonial head of state, who is leading its delegation, and Pence are due to attend the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang on Friday.

That could put them in the same room at a leaders' reception beforehand.

Pence has lambasted the North, announcing in Tokyo on Wednesday that the US would impose its toughest sanctions to date on the regime.

The US "will not allow North Korean propaganda to hijack the message and imagery of the Olympic Games".

But on his way to Asia, he left open the possibility of meeting any of Pyongyang's representatives.

"I have not requested a meeting, but we'll see what happens," he said.


- Goose-stepping troops -

Pyongyang last month announced it would commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of its military on February 8 -- changing the date from April 25 and switching it to the day before the Games' opening ceremony.

The latest satellite imagery, taken Tuesday, showed 13,000 troops rehearsing at a training facility on the outskirts of Pyongyang, along with around 150 tanks and other armored vehicles, according to respected US website 38 North.

But none of the missiles that are the highlight of the parades for Pyongyang-watchers, who examine them closely for clues about the sources and progress of its technology, had so far been spotted, it added.

North Korean military parades typically feature thousands of goose-stepping troops and hundreds of armored vehicles, culminating with missiles rolling through Kim Il Sung Square -- the highlight for Pyongyang-watchers who examine them for clues about the progress of its technology.

But none of them were spotted in satellite imagery ahead of the parade, according to respected US website 38 North.

Pyongyang normally invites hundreds of foreign journalists to show off the spectacle to the world but did not do so this time, possibly an indication that it wanted to control how the display was seen -- which would be in keeping with the absence of live coverage.


- 'Peace Olympics' -

The Winter Olympics, which will take place just 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas, have triggered a rapid rapprochement on the peninsula, although analysts warn that warmer relations may not last long beyond the Games.

Tensions soared last year as the North carried out multiple weapons tests, including intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the US mainland, and by far its most powerful nuclear test to date.

Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump traded personal insults and threats of war, and for months Pyongyang ignored Seoul's entreaties to take part in a "peace Olympics" until Kim indicated his willingness to do so in his New Year speech.

That set off a rapid series of meetings which saw the two Koreas agree to march together at the opening ceremony and form a unified women's ice hockey team, their first for 27 years.

But critics in the South say Seoul has made too many concessions to Pyongyang, and demonstrators protested the arrival of the art troupe earlier this week.

But Pyongyang official Cho insisted: "The reason that our delegation is in the South is to participate in the Winter Olympics and celebrate its successful hosting.

"We will not make use of sports festivities such as the Winter Olympics for political purposes," he was quoted as saying. "We don't feel any need to do so either."

Asia, he said: "I have not requested a meeting, but we'll see what happens."


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