In Japan for meetings with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence announced that the U.S. was getting ready to unveil a new set of economic sanctions against North Korea – a blistering move that will no doubt darken the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics as Pyongyang makes their tentative grasp towards diplomacy with the South Koreans.
Pence, who will be at the Olympics to lead the U.S. delegation at the opening ceremonies on Friday, said that North Korea could soon expect to feel the full consequences of their rogue nuclear program.
“The United States of America will soon unveil the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever – and we will continue to isolate North Korea until it abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile programs once and for all,” Pence said.
So far, the White House has been mum on what form those sanctions might take, telling the press that releasing additional information could allow the North Koreans and their allies extra time to try and maneuver around the new restrictions. The sanctions, however, are expected to go into effect before the Winter Games are over.
In his meetings with Abe, Pence assured the Japanese leader that the Trump administration was fully committed to protecting U.S. allies in the Pacific from the threat of a nuclearized Kim Jong Un.
“The United States is with you in this challenge,” he said. “And we will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Japan, the people of South Korea, and our allies and partners across the region until we achieve the global objective of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Pence also said that while he was willing to meet with North Korean officials at the games, he wasn’t going to tell them anything different than they’ve already heard: Unless they’re ready to give up their nuclear weapons, there will be no bilateral negotiations.
Furthermore, Pence warned the world against falling for what Abe called the “charm offensive of North Korea.”
“We will not allow North Korean propaganda to hijack the message and imagery of the Olympic Games,” Pence said. “We’ll be there to cheer our athletes, but we’ll also be there to stand with our allies and remind the world that North Korea is the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet.”
Pence’s message in the Pacific is another reminder (as though one were needed) that even though it may have been a few months since the last nuclear/missile test out of Pyongyang, tensions on the Peninsula are as thick as ever. Kim Jong Un may be sending a delegation to the south to play nice, but no one is fooled by this mask of diplomacy. The world will know when he is ready to come to the table, because he will destroy his nuclear arsenal and submit to international inspections.
Can new sanctions bring him to that point? We will see.