Blue House cast doubt on meeting between US and North Korea at Olympics closing ceremony

Posted on : 2018-02-23 16:00 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
US government official says that Ivanka Trump has no plans to meet the North Korean delegation
Ivanka Trump speaks about the expected effects of the administration’s tax reform bill at the White House on Jan. 14. Trump will be visiting South Korea from Feb. 23-26
Ivanka Trump speaks about the expected effects of the administration’s tax reform bill at the White House on Jan. 14. Trump will be visiting South Korea from Feb. 23-26

Could the meeting between senior figures from North Korea and the US that almost took place at the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics come about at the closing ceremony instead? A North Korean delegation led by Kim Yong-chol, a vice chairman of the Central Committee of the North Korean Workers’ Party (KWP), and an American delegation led by Ivanka Trump, an advisor to her father US President Donald Trump, have both confirmed their attendance at the closing ceremony, giving rise to more speculation about a meeting between the two sides.

So far, the prevailing view is that such a meeting is not very likely. “A meeting between the two [Ivanka Trump and Kim Yong-chol] would probably look awkward. There probably aren’t any plans, and won’t be an opportunity, for them to meet,” a senior official at the Blue House said on Feb. 22. The Blue House also strongly denied any possibility of it arranging a meeting between the two sides.

Furthermore, a senior official in the US government bluntly said that Ivanka Trump had no plans to meet a North Korean government official during her visit to South Korea. Another complicating factor is that the US publicly stated that North Korea had called off at the last minute a meeting arranged between US Vice President Mike Pence and KWP Central Committee First Vice Director Kim Yo-jong during Pence’s visit to South Korea for the opening ceremony of the Olympics. The very fact that the US broke with diplomatic tradition to blame the North Korean side for the meeting’s cancellation can be taken to mean that the US is not eager to meet with the North.

But if both sides are willing to engage in dialogue, a meeting may not be totally out of the question. For one thing, Kim Yong-chol and Ivanka Trump are likely to sit in the VIP section at a similar distance as Kim Yo-jong and Mike Pence did during the opening ceremony. In addition, Ivanka Trump will be visiting South Korea from Feb. 23 to Feb. 26, and the North Korean delegation will be visiting from Feb. 25 to Feb. 27, which means their itineraries overlap by two days. This means that, theoretically at least, the two sides could sound each other out at the closing ceremony and then sit together at another table the next day (Feb. 26).

On Feb. 21, the New York Times reported that Allison Hooker, who is in charge of Korean affairs for the White House National Security Council, will be accompanying the delegation to South Korea, leaving open the possibility of contact with the North. The big question is what role will be played by Hooker, a former North Korea analyst for the CIA who unofficially accompanied Pence on his visit to South Korea.

Also intriguing is that Hooker and Kim Yong-chol have met before. Hooker was with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper when he visited North Korea in Nov. 2014 to secure a release for Americans detained there, including Kenneth Bae. Clapper was met by Kim Yong-chol, then-Director of North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, and Hooker was also present at the occasion.

By Kim Bo-hyeop and Kim Ji-eun, staff reporter

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