United States to impose 'toughest ever' sanctions on North Korea, Pence warns

North Korea informed the South on Wednesday that leader Kim Jong Un's sister, an increasingly prominent figure in the country's leadership, will be part of a high-level government delegation traveling for the Olympics.

Her position is such that, according to a Seoul-based think tank run by North Korean defectors, Kim Yo Jong briefly took charge of the country while her brother was reportedly ill with gout or diabetes in late 2014.

South Korean media had speculated North Korea would create another sanctions-related headache by insisting on sending its senior officials via the US -boycotted Air Koryo.

"My message - whatever the setting, whoever is present - will be the same: And that is that North Korea must once and for all abandon its nuclear weapons program and ballistic missile ambitions", Pence said.

The South Koreans were accompanied by a 32-member North Korean delegation, including 10 athletes invited to participate for the Olympics, on their return flight the next day.

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The cheerleaders - who travelled south wearing matching outfits - have been despatched to spur on athletes from both North and South Korea at the Winter Olympic Games which opens in Pyeongchang on Friday.

Additional reporting from Newsy affiliate CNN.

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, attends the opening ceremony of a residential complex. The North has shifted to a peace offensive following a series of ballistic missile and nuclear tests in 2017.

Kim Yo Jong and Kim Jong Un were born to the same mother, Ko Yong Hui.

Vice President Mike Pence is seeking to reassure and refocus American allies on the growing nuclear threat from North Korea with visits to Japan and South Korea this week.

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"It would not look good if North Korea and the United States would sit side by side and remain icy and confrontational the whole time, and those images are broadcast for the whole world to see", Lee said. The measures ban North Korean vessels from ports in the South or South Korean territorial waters.

As Kim Jong Un's sister and a vice director with the ruling political party, Kim Yo Jong is seen by some in the South Korean media as a moderating force on her more impulsive brother, much the way Ivanka Trump is seen by some US pundits as a moderate influence on her father, President Trump.

She was likely to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in and give him a personal letter from her brother, expressing his hopes for a successful hosting of the Olympics and desire to improve inter-Korean ties, he added.

Dismissing criticism about such a military event on the eve of the start of the Olympics south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), the North's state media said the scheduling had nothing to do with the global sports festival. As his guest at the opening ceremony, he is taking the father of Otto Warmbier, an American student who died a year ago after being imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months.

North Korea also on Wednesday sent a 280-member delegation, including 229 members of a state-trained cheering group, via the land border for the Olympics. He urged countries "not to be lured by the charm offensive of North Korea", adding that the United States and Japan are "100 percent on the same page" on North Korean policy.

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To avoid offending Japan at the Games, a South Korean figure skating pair made a decision to change the lyrics of a popular Korean folk ballad that will form part of their routine, dropping a reference in the song to disputed islands.

  • Ryan Wade