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Pence misses his chance in South Korea

Mike Pence, Karen Pence, and Kim Yo-jong
Vice President Mike Pence; his wife, Karen Pence; and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister, Kim Yo-jong at the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games. Photo: Odd Andersen / AFP / Getty Images

Vice President Mike Pence's trip to Seoul for the Winter Olympics was meant to help patch up the fractious U.S.–South Korea alliance but has only exacerbated the problems.

After 10 weeks in which North Korea has refrained from a missile test and tempered its military exercises, cameras captured Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong smiling and applauding the joint Korean team and shaking hands with South Korean president Moon Jae-in. Meanwhile, Pence was shown staring sullenly ahead while seated just feet in front of Kim, and reportedly arrived late to a VIP dinner where he shook hands with everyone but her.

Pence has repeated his talking points claiming that economic pressure will force Pyongyang to capitulate. But after a year of trying it should now be clear that no amount of sanctions or threats have changed North Korea’s calculus. The U.S. is making no real real effort to prevent an atmospheric nuclear test or further missile tests in the spring.

Why it matters: South Korea would like to see American support for the diplomatic efforts that have allowed for a peaceful Olympics. Now is the U.S.'s best moment to approach North Korea and do well by its South Korean allies, but that opportunity is at risk of being squandered.

Adam Mount is a senior fellow and director of the Defense Posture Project at the Federation of American Scientists.