TOKYO: 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.
In meetings with government leaders, military officials and U.S. service members, Pence said he wants to make sure the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics don't distract from the bellicose North Korean human rights abuses and nuclear program. He is meeting Wednesday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss increasing pressure on the North.
"The United States is with you in this challenge," Pence told Abe as they began their bilateral talks. "And we will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Japan, the people of South Korea, and our allies and partners across the region until we achieve the global objective of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."
Pence watched Japanese troops demonstrate the simulated deployment of Japan's surface-to-air missile defense system, which would attempt to intercept a North Korean missile. He also participated in a briefing at Japan's Ministry of Defense on the threat.
"The full range of American military capabilities is dedicated to the protection of Japan," Pence tweeted.
Pence will travel on to South Korea Thursday for meetings with President Moon Jae-in, where he will promote the Trump administration's campaign of "maximum pressure" against the North, as the South pursues a diplomatic opening around the Winter Olympics.
The vice president is leading the U.S. delegation to the opening ceremonies of the games, but said he is using the international sporting event as an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the North Korea.
"We'll be ensuring that whatever cooperation that's existing between North and South Korea today on Olympic teams does not cloud the reality of a regime that must continue to be isolated by the world community," Pence told reporters Monday.