Pence says the US is open to a discussion with North Korea

Key Points
  • The U.S. is ready to hold talks with North Korea even as it continues to apply severe sanctions on the rogue state, Vice President Mike Pence said, according to The Washington Post.
  • Pence and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed on that strategy during Pence's stay in Seoul and Pyeongchang for the Olympics.

The United States is willing to talk with North Korean leadership even as it continues applying maximum pressure on the rogue state's economy, according to Vice President Mike Pence.

Speaking to The Washington Post en route home from a five-day Asia trip, the president's second-in-command described the strategy as "maximum pressure and engagement."

Vice President Mike Pence and President of South Korea Moon Jae-in watch short track speed skating at Gangneung Ice Arena on February 10, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.
Carl Court/Getty Images

The new plan was agreed upon during Pence's stay in South Korea last week for the Olympics, during which he had "substantive conversations" with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the newspaper reported.

Both officials agreed that Seoul would first engage with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's team — the two neighbors recently held landmark talks — after which the U.S. may follow suit, the Post said. Pence told the newspaper he had conferred with President Donald Trump "every day he was in Asia."

This unified strategy marks a major change in Trump's attempts to resolve Pyongyang's aggressive nuclear and missile testing program and differs from the administration's previous attempts at economic punishment.

Trump and Moon have long clashed on how to rein in Kim's miilitary program — the White House has advocated force while Seoul has emphasized dialogue, a method that Moon's critics believe amounts to appeasement.

Speaking in Tokyo on Wednesday, Pence said Washington would soon unveil "the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever."

South Korea will tread cautiously on proposed talks with North Korea

It's not the first time U.S. officials have expressed an interest in talking with Pyongyang.

In December, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered to begin direct talks with the isolated nation without preconditions. Trump himself said last month that he was willing to talk with Kim despite recent heated exchanges between the two leaders.

Read The Washington Post's story for Pence's full comments.