(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will take a higher-profile approach to attending the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month to help counter what a White House official called North Korea’s propaganda efforts at the games.
Concerned about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s successful bid to send a team to the Olympics in Pyeongchang -- and have the athletes march into the opening ceremony with their South Korean counterparts -- Pence will conduct a series of interviews before and during the games, according to the official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity. He’ll also make a stop in Alaska en route to the games to review U.S. defense installations, the official said.
The Olympic opening ceremony will be the first time North and South Koreans step out together at an international sporting event since 2007.
Kim infused some unexpected excitement into his decision to reach out to South Korea about participating in the games by including Hyon Song Wol, a North Korean pop star, in an official North Korean delegation sent to inspect performance venues before the Feb. 8 opening ceremony.
The episode further raised anxieties within the Trump administration that the Kim government would score a public relations victory, the official said.
Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in also agreed to field a unified women’s hockey team, the first time the two sides would compete as one team. North Korea will send 22 athletes, along with 24 coaches and officials, Olympic officials said.
The joint Olympics delegation grew out of talks opened between North and South Korea. North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency warned Sunday that an effort by South Korea to link reconciliation to denuclearization would chill the talks.
The dialog is already producing some division among allies. Japan, for example, has been wary of any rapprochement with North Korea, wanting to keep talks focused only on the nuclear issue. It has portrayed ongoing talks as a transparent effort by Kim to buy time to keep working on nuclear weapons.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo on Tuesday reiterated warnings that Kim is within months of developing nuclear weapons capable of striking the U.S. Pompeo said the regime wants to use its budding arsenal for “coercive” purposes, dismissing North Korea’s contention that it needs a nuclear missile program to enhance its defense against a possible American attack.
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