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Mike Pence on Snubbing North Korean Leader’s Sister Kim Yo Jong: ‘I Didn’t Avoid Her, I Ignored Her’

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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, in South Korea, on February 9. Patrick Semansky/Pool/Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence has no regrets about the way he dealt with the high-ranking North Korean delegation whose path he crossed during the opening days of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Pence passed up at least two opportunities to talk with members of the North Korean delegation, which included the country’s ceremonial leader Kim Yong Nam and Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the country’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un.

But Pence made only a brief appearance at a reception also attended by Kim Yong Nam on Friday and also dodged any direct contact with Kim Yo Jong at the opening ceremony, despite being seated only a few seats away.

Pence, however, was specific about the nature of the apparent snub.

“I didn’t avoid the dictator’s sister, but I did ignore her,” Pence said at a talk organized by the news website Axios on Wednesday. “I didn’t believe it was proper for the United States of America to give any countenance or attention in that forum to someone who’s not merely the sister of the dictator but is the leader of the propaganda effort.”

The vice president referenced the assassination of the supreme leader’s brother Kim Jong Nam and the execution of his uncle Jang Song Thaek as evidence of the North Korean ruling family committing “evil the likes of which we have witnessed rarely in our time around the world.”

Pence said that his decision not to talk with members of the North Korean delegation at the games was designed to protest the regime’s human rights abuses. 

“I wanted to send, by my silence, a very clear message that the people of the United States of America know who they’re dealing with and we’re going to continue to stand firmly and stand strong, with resolve and with our allies, until the regime in North Korea ceases to threaten our country and our allies with nuclear and ballistic missiles,” Pence said. “And we will continue to hold them to account on their appalling record of abuse of human rights of their own people.” 

At the opening ceremony, Pence was one of the few in the stadium who did not stand for the North and South Korean athletes who marched under the united Korean Peninsula flag, an attitude that earned him both praise and criticism. His chief of staff and communications director Jarrod Agen attempted to quell the controversy, noting that Pence only stood for Team U.S.A.

When the vice president set off on his trip to Japan and South Korea via Alaska, his main goal was not so much the cheering of U.S. athletes as strengthening the allies’ resolve to maintain pressure on Pyongyang, resisting the so-called charm offensive from North Korea and reminding the world of the regime’s human rights abuses.

But on his way back to the U.S., Pence announced the White House was open to hold talks with North Korea, following discussions with South Korean president Moon Jae-in.

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