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Kim's sister leaves Olympics for home

Talk to U.S., S. Korea urges North

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Photographs by AP

In this photo provided by the South Korea Presidential Blue House, South Korean President Moon Jae-in (right) shakes hands with North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam as Kim Yo Jong (center), North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, watches after a performance of North Korea’s Samjiyon Orchestra at National Theater in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister headed home Sunday night after three days in South Korea, where she sat among world dignitaries at the Olympics and tossed a diplomatic offer to the South aimed at ending seven decades of hostility.

Kim Yo Jong and the rest of the North Korean delegation departed for Pyongyang on her brother's private jet, a day after they delivered his hopes for a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in during a lunch at Seoul's presidential palace.

The U.S. is ready to engage in talks about North Korea's nuclear program even as it maintains pressure on Kim Jong Un's regime, The Washington Post reported, citing an interview with Vice President Mike Pence.

Pence and Moon agreed during conversations at the Olympics on a post-Olympics strategy that Pence dubbed "maximum pressure and engagement at the same time." Pence spoke in an interview on his way home from the Winter Olympics.

[NUCLEAR NORTH KOREA: Maps, data on country’s nuclear program]

"The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization," the Post quoted Pence as saying. "So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we'll talk."

The comments represent a departure from President Donald Trump administration's previous stance that it would not engage in any dialogue with North Korea unless Kim Jong Un's regime first agreed to the goal of denuclearization. Pence endorsed a post-Olympics engagement after Moon assured him that the North Koreans wouldn't get economic or diplomatic benefits for just talking -- only for taking concrete steps toward denuclearization.

"I think it is different from the last 20 years," Pence said, according to the Post. When asked what exact steps North Korea would have to take to get sanctions relief, he said: "I don't know."

The North Korean delegation capped its final day in South Korea by joining Moon at a Seoul concert given by a visiting North Korean art troupe led by the head of the popular Moranbong band, whose young female members are hand-picked by Kim Jong Un.

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon hosted the North Koreans for lunch Sunday before Moon's chief of staff, Im Jong-seok, hosted them for dinner ahead of the concert.

Kim Yo Jong, 30, is an increasingly prominent figure in her brother's government and the first member of the North's ruling family to visit the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. The North Korean delegation also included the country's 90-year-old head of state, Kim Yong Nam.

The North Koreans went through a busy schedule in South Korea as the world watched their every move. They were whisked back and forth between Seoul and the Olympic towns of Pyeongchang and Gangneung.

The most important part of the visit, however, came during one of the quieter moments.

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.

Though Moon has used the Olympics to resurrect communication with North Korea after a diplomatic stalemate over its nuclear program, he didn't immediately jump on the North Korean offer for a summit.

He said the Koreas should create an environment so that a summit could take place. He also called for the quick resumption of dialogue between North Korea and the United States.

After arriving in Seoul on Friday, the North Koreans attended a chilly opening ceremony at Pyeongchang's Olympic Stadium, taking their place among world dignitaries, including Vice President Mike Pence and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Analysts say Kim Jong Un's decision to send his sister to the South reflected an eagerness to break out of diplomatic isolation by improving ties with the South, which the country could eventually use as a bridge to approach the United States. The U.S.-led international community has been tightening the screws on North Korea with sanctions designed to punish its economy and rein in its efforts to expand its nuclear weapons and missile program, which now includes developmental long-range missiles targeting the U.S. mainland.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis on Sunday rejected any suggestion that even a temporary warming of relations between the North and South could drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington.

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. We can't say right now."

He said that when he met South Korea's defense minister in January, it was made clear "there is no wedge that can be driven between us by North Korea."

Information for this article was contributed by Kim Tong-hyung and Lolita C. Baldor of The Associated Press, and by David Tweed of Bloomberg News.

A Section on 02/12/2018

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