Seoul: US Vice-President Mike Pence skipped a dinner ahead of the Winter Olympics opening ceremony on Friday where he had been reportedly due to share a table with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and the North’s ceremonial head of state, Seoul said.
Seating plans shown on television had Pence seated directly opposite the North’s Kim Yong Nam at the reception in Pyeongchang.
But a spokesman for the South’s presidential Blue House said he arrived late, “exchanged greetings with those seated at the head table, and left without sitting down”.
Pence had told Seoul in advance that he would be dining with US athletes soon afterwards “so his seat was not prepared accordingly”, the spokesman said.
“He was going to leave immediately after taking the group photo session but President Moon urged him to ‘see friends’ so he dropped by the reception venue briefly.”
Pence did not shake hands with Kim, he added, but Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did, exchanging a few words with him. Seating plans shown on South Korean television just minutes earlier had Pence sitting to Moon’s left, directly opposite Kim.
The North’s representative, its highest-level official ever to visit the South, was placed between Olympics chief Thomas Bach and UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres.
Neither Pence nor Abe took part in a group photo of the leaders at the reception, in which Kim stood behind Moon.
Meanwhile, the two Koreas marched together and South Korea’s President shared a historic handshake with Kim Jong Un’s sister as the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics opened in a spirit of intense rapprochement on Friday.
At a glittering but sub-zero ceremony, South and North Korea brought the crowd to its feet as they entered behind the blue-and-white Korean unification flag.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in shook the hand of a smiling Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as he entered the VIP seating section, and again as the Korean athletes marched.
Meanwhile, Fred Warmbier, father of Otto Warmbier, an American student who died aged 22 after being detained in North Korea for a petty offence last year, was not in the box with Pence but rather sitting with the US athletes, according to The Washington Post Tokyo bureau chief Anna Fifield.