Winter Olympics: North Korean cheerleaders mesmerise crowds

Kim Yo-jong is seen standing behind US Vice President Mike Pence at the opening ceremony

The 19 other North Korean athletes participating in the games are three cross-country skiers; two short-track speed skaters; a pair of figure skaters; and 12 female hockey players who helped form the Koreas' first-ever joint Olympic team with South Korean players. But the verbal message on Saturday to come at a "convenient time" from dictator Kim Jong Un, delivered by his visiting younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, is part of a sudden rush of improving feelings between the rivals during the Pyeongchang Olympics. The night before, Kim and other North Korean delegates attended the opening ceremony of the Olympics, watching a "unified" Korean team march under a banner showing an undivided Korean Peninsula.

That is the assessment of a former South Korean government minister and political experts who say the North has used the Games to drive a wedge between South Korea and its USA ally and to potentially ease pressure on its sanctions-crippled state.

It secured a United Nations exemption to allow one blacklisted official to travel, and a waiver from U.S. sanctions to enable an Asiana Airlines plane to fly North, while granting one of its own for a North Korean ship that came south.

During their meeting President Moon was pictured smiling and shaking hands with Kim Yo Jong.

"For all that President Moon has done in outreach and discussions around the Olympics and inter-Korean talks, there is no daylight between the United States and the Republic of Korea and Japan on the need to continue to isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically until they abandon their nuclear and ballistic-missile program, " Pence told reporters Saturday aboard Air Force One.

Tensions between the two soared past year as Pyongyang launched intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland and carried out by far its most powerful nuclear test to date.

Pence said he would seek to counter North Korea's attempt to use the Olympics for propaganda and invited the father of Otto Warmbier, an American student who died past year after being imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months, to the Games in Pyeongchang.

USA officials have been urging South Korea to be cautious in its rapprochement with the North.

"The grievances that the world has about North Korea are very legitimate".

Demonstrating a non-committal stance, Moon said about the invitation that he wants to "create the environment for that to be able to happen".

A senior Japanese defence official said North Korea's Games charm offensive could "simply be a way to gain time" until it completed its nuclear and ballistic missile development.

The unified hockey team representing North Korea and South Korea didn't fare so well in their first outing, losing 8-0 to Switzerland.

Pence said Friday the US would oppose talks between the two Koreas until the North agreed to open negotiations on ending its nuclear program.

Moon is eager to use Kim Yo Jong's presence at the games to restore regular communication with North Korea and eventually pull it into nuclear talks.

The latest North Korean diplomatic overture does not appear to have discouraged Washington from pursuing its strategy of pressure.

Both of those South Korean presidents had struggled under growing domestic criticism after their trips to Pyongyang had resulted in large shipments of aid and investment but failed to end the North's nuclear weapons program.

Kim Yo Jong, 28, is the first member of the ruling Kim family bearing the bloodline of the sacred Mount Paektu, a centrepiece of the North's idolisation and propaganda campaign, to cross the border into the South since the 1950-53 Korean War.

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