Abe meets top N.Korean official

North Korean cheerleaders wave their national flag at Yongpyong Alpine Centre the venue for alpine technical events at the Pyeong Chang Winter Olympics in PyeongChang 180 kilometers east of Seoul on Feb. 14 2018

That was the clearest sign yet of an expanding diplomatic opening opposed by the Trump administration. White House officials stressed that Pence had applauded only for the American team, but Asia experts said the vice president's refusal to stand could be seen as disrespectful to the hosts.

She's been known to act as an advance-team leader, inspecting sites before official visits and taking on administrative duties, analysts said. Later, he skipped a formal dinner at which he was due to share a table with North Korea's ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam.

Also at that game: the famed cheer squad from North Korea - more than 100 identically dressed women who sing, perform choreographed moves and cheer on their team.

Decked out in red tracksuits and woolly hats, North Korea's cheerleaders sang "uri nun, hana da" (we are one) and clapped in flawless unison as local hip hop artists rapped on a stage behind them and K-Pop blared over the loudspeakers in a stark clash of cultures.

Moon received the invitation from Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

South Korean Choi Yoon-seok, 21, had a hunch Kim would show up to Saturday's hockey game.

That was not the case with Moon - either at the games, when he enthusiastically reached up to shake Kim Yo Jong's hand, or at the lunch the next day.

"She's probably one of the most influential people on Kim Jong Un himself, precisely because he has very few people he can trust", said Balbina Hwang, visiting professor at Georgetown University and founder of the National Committee on North Korea.

The prospect of two-way talks between the Koreas, however, may not be welcomed by the United States.

The North's Olympic "detente" is a striking shift in tactics.

The two Koreas have been divided since the conflict ended in a ceasefire in 1953, and the democratic South has risen to become the world's 11th-largest economy, while the North has stagnated under the Kim family's rule. Before now, she had been seen mainly in photos, but often in the background, as her brother took center stage. This is her first high-profile worldwide appearance at center stage, though she is technically just a member of a delegation headed by Kim Yong Nam.

Most notably, Kim sat directly behind U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at Friday night's opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, creating the unique image of two top officials whose governments have been locked in a loud argument, suddenly seated just feet away from each other.

"Pence must know that his frantic acts of abusing the sacred Olympics for confrontational ruckus are as foolish and stupid an act as sweeping the sea with a broom", the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary published Saturday.

But the North was welcomed with open arms to what South Korean President Moon Jae-in called "Olympic games of peace".

It was an emotionally charged moment.

But amid the thaw on between the two Koreas, and the ensuing calming of tensions on the peninsula, Washington's has taken a hit, appearing nearly obstinate.

Pence said Friday that the USA would oppose talks between the two Koreas until the North agreed to open negotiations on ending its nuclear program, and he was silent Saturday on the news of the invitation.

The delegation's most substantive event may come outside of the Olympic ambit on Saturday. He took with him the parents of Otto Warmbier, the university student who died late previous year after suffering horrific injuries while in North Korean detention, and promised more sanctions against Pyongyang.

But during her stay, Kim Yo Jong will have ample opportunity to play up the feel-good side of her country's participation in the games.

The sanctions imposed against the Kim regime after last year's intercontinental ballistic missile launches and huge nuclear test are now beginning to take effect, experts say, postulating that Kim Jong Un is now looking for the "weakest link" in the chain to try to break the sanctions.

Later, the North Korean cheerleaders responded by singing "We are one!", swaying from side to side in a perfectly choreographed display of unity and discipline.



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