US Vice President Mike Pence

Armchair Olympians

Armchair Olympians

After months of silence on whether it would even take part in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in the South, the Games have driven a rapprochement on the peninsula, while the North's athletes, performers and delegates have dominated the headlines.

She appeared beaming in photos and video at the Olympics, where she attended the opening ceremony, and then on Saturday went to lunch at the presidential palace, called the Blue House.

Any meeting would represent a diplomatic coup for Moon, who swept to power past year on a policy of engagement with the isolated North while pursuing a diplomatic solution to the standoff over its nuclear and missile programs.

Other delegates present included North Korea's IOC member Ung Chang, who received a rousing cheer when introduced, Italy's Association of Summer Olympic International Federations chief Francesco Ricci Bitti, and Turkey's World Archery head and IOC vice-president Uğur Erdener.

A Blue House official said Moon "practically accepted" the invitation.

Analysts said his acceptance was assured. "Moon has always wanted an early summit and Pyongyang has its own political reasons for reviving inter-Korean cooperation". He also said the ceremonies were not the appropriate venue for serious talks.

After the image emerged, suspicions that the mask bore the picture of a young Kim Il-sung surfaced among South Koreans.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News' Lester Holt on the sidelines of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Pence made clear that the US was not ruling out military options as tensions continued to roil the Korean Peninsula.

Pence said the United States and South Korea were closely aligned in their approach to dealing with North Korea. Some have speculated that it could contain a message from the North Korean dictator.

"We enjoyed sea breeze, laughed and had some delicious sodas", goaltender Shin So Jung said in Korean.

He didn't say what those conditions were, but he urged North Korea to open a dialogue with the United States, suggesting no diplomatic progress could be made without USA participation.

Expectations are sky-high for an array of stars at Pyeongchang, including American skiers Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn, while the drama in figure skating centres on whether Japan's "Ice Prince" Yuzuru Hanyu can recover from injury to retain his crown.

On his flight to Alaska on Saturday, the vice president said he left Asia "encouraged that we will continue to work very closely to continue and intensify the maximum pressure campaign" against North Korea.

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.

Pence and his wife, Karen, were seated adjacent to South Korea's President Moon Jae-in and only one row in front of Kim Yo Jong at the opening ceremony.

In an attempt to head off these concerns, Pence was quoted as he departed South Korea on Saturday as saying that Washington, Seoul and Tokyo remained in complete agreement on isolating the North over its nuclear weapons program. Otto was returned to the U.S.in an unconscious state, but died a week later at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. Pence was also at the dinner and reportedly refused to shake the elderly North Korean's hand.

ReutersSouth Korean president Moon Jae-in greets the president of the Praesidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of North Korea as Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea's president Kim Jong Un, looks on. Warming ties between the Koreas could complicate Seoul's ties with Washington, which wants to maximize its pressures on Pyongyang. The North Koreans were in the room at the same time as Pence, an official said.

Moon has said he hopes to be able to set the conditions to hold a summit between the two leaders in the North.

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