United States hints at preliminary talks with North Korea

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Kim Yo Jong, top right, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, sits alongside Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of North Korean Parliament, and behind U.S. Vice President Mike Pence as she watches the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium on February 9, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.

"We want to make sure North Korea understands us, and if there's an opportunity for talks that can communicate the fixed policy of the United States of America to them, the president has made it clear he always believes in talking. But talking is not negotiation - talking is understanding one another", he said.

Media outlets, including major outlets in the United States, fawned over an appearance by North Korean leader Kim Jung Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong, at the Winter Olympics and hailed the nation as presenting a face of reformation.

The Trump administration is not backing down from its efforts to confront North Korea, sanction its nuclear program, and confront the country's propaganda machine, these officials said.

But Pence, speaking to reporters on Saturday, stressed "the need to continue to isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically until they abandon their nuclear and ballistic missile program".

Pence, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in were all seated mere feet away from Kim Yo Jong, a senior member of the North's high-level delegation and the head of the country's propaganda department, at the Opening Ceremony for the Games last week. "This is evil the likes of which we have witnessed rarely in our time around the world".

He said the United States and its allies would impose "steep and escalating costs" on Pyongyang until it takes "clear steps toward denuclearisation".

Pence was quoted in the Washington Post on Sunday as saying the US and South Korea had agreed terms for future diplomatic engagement with North Korea.

The North-South thaw has prompted speculation that it could lead to direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang after months of tension and exchanges of insults between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim, which has fueled fears of war.

However, senior US officials familiar with the situation said Pence's trip to the Olympics was meant to serve as a counter to North Korea's massive propaganda machine and that media reports indicating otherwise have bolstered the rogue nation's image at a time when it is aggressively pursuing its nuclear weapons program. "[The] maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify".

Whether North Korea will agree to talks on denuclearization, however, remains unclear.

Perhaps if Murphy succeeds at ascending to the White House in 2020, we'll see him applauding North Korea at a future Olympic ceremony.

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