North Korean leader Kim Jong Un deployed a new weapon at the Olympics to fight back against the Trump administration’s sanctions and threats of a preemptive strike against his nuclear program: His sister.
Kim Yo Jong shook hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, cheered enthusiastically for a unified Korean team, and displayed a sense of humor in weekend meetings. She also delivered a letter inviting Moon to a summit with her brother in Pyongyang, and asked him to play a “leading role” in reuniting the two Koreas after nearly seven decades.
“I never expected to come here on such short notice to be honest, and I thought it would be strange and different but it’s not,” Kim Yo Jong said at a dinner Sunday night before heading home. “There are many things similar and the same. I hope we can quickly become one and meet these good people again in Pyongyang.”
The warm words were aimed at further exploiting divisions between the U.S. and South Korea, which differ on the best way to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons. Her visit amounted to a charm offensive designed to counter the U.S. narrative that Kim Jong Un is a madman who tortures his own people and would blow up Los Angeles or New York City if he didn’t get his way.
North Korea’s participation in the Olympics has already allowed Kim Jong Un to undermine President Donald Trump’s pressure campaign, with some sanctions suspended temporarily until the event ends. In pushing for a summit with Moon, Kim is seeking to consolidate those gains while maintaining his nuclear arsenal to deter a U.S. invasion.
The question now is whether the U.S. and South Korea can stay united in keeping up the pressure on North Korea just as sanctions limiting export revenue and curbing fuel imports start to bite. While Trump’s advisers have threatened military action to prevent Kim from gaining the ability to strike the U.S. homeland with a nuclear weapon, Moon is seeking to prevent a war that could devastate South Korea and the region.
Kim’s proposal for a summit was “a brilliant diplomatic maneuver,” said Andrei Lankov, a historian at Kookmin University in Seoul who once studied in Pyongyang. Moon would irritate Trump if he accepts the invitation, while declining would make the U.S. and South Korea appear “unreasonably bellicose,” he said.
“The proposal, as well as North Korea’s presence at the Games, sends a signal that the North Koreans are ready to talk,” Lankov said. “And this signal helps the opponents of a military operation in Washington and elsewhere.”
Signs of discord in the U.S.-South Korea alliance were evident immediately after the announcement. Moon’s office initially provided conflicting accounts of whether he accepted the invitation, with a Blue House spokesperson later clarifying that pre-conditions first needed to be met.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence didn’t discuss the invitation with Moon while they watched a speed-
skating event, a senior White House official said. Speaking to reporters later, Pence reiterated that there was “no daylight” between the U.S., South Korea and Japan in pushing to isolate North Korea until Kim abandons his nuclear program. David Tweed, Kanga Kong & Andy Sharp, Bloomberg