U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was en route to Asia on Tuesday on a trip that takes him to the Winter Olympics in South Korea where his itinerary underlines Washington's stance that North Korea is trying to use the Games for crude propaganda.
As his guest for the Games opening ceremony on Friday, Pence is bringing the father of Otto Warmbier, an American student who was imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months and died in June 2017 from lack of oxygen and blood to the brain.
Pence will also visit a memorial for 46 South Korean sailors killed in 2010 in the sinking of a warship that Seoul blamed on a North Korean torpedo attack.
"The vice president will be there with Mr. Warmbier at the opening ceremony... to remind the world of the atrocities that happen in North Korea," a White House official said on Monday.
South Korea, a close U.S. ally that hosts about 28,500 American troops, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, has welcomed a North Korean team to the Games, part of efforts to improve ties after the North conducted its sixth nuclear test last year and a series of missile tests, in defiance on U.N. Security Council resolutions.
U.S. President Donald Trump has said he hopes "something good" can come from North Korea's participation, but his advisers see North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's embrace of the Games as a facade of international goodwill and cooperation.
During Pence's visit, Washington wants to keep the focus on the North's disregard for calls to halt its nuclear programme and convince allies to keep pressuring Pyongyang, officials said.
However, there are tensions between U.S. scepticism and the optimism of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who wants to use the Games to improve relations with the North and open the door to eventual talks on its weapons programmes.
Games organizers have picked up on Moon's theme of peace and reconciliation.
"Through the participation of North Korea, the 'Peace Olympics' has been realized and this will lead a foundation to improve inter-Korean relations," Games chief Lee Hee-beom told reporters.