The Trump administration is not backing down from its growing efforts to confront the North Korean regime, despite a slew of media reports over the weekend claiming U.S. policy on the matter has weakened, according to U.S. officials who told the Washington Free Beacon the latest reports are fueling the North Korean regime's massive propaganda efforts.
Multiple news reports published over the weekend claimed Vice President Mike Pence is leaving the door open to renewed talks with North Korea amid an effort by the dictatorial hermit nation to use the 2018 Olympics in South Korea as a platform to present a reformed image.
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Media outlets, including major outlets in the United States, fawned over an appearance by North Korean leader Kim Jung Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong, at the Winter Olympics and hailed the nation as presenting a face of reformation. Some reports claimed Pence's presence at the Olympics signaled a new willingness to sit down for talks with North Korea.
However, senior U.S. officials familiar with the situation said Pence's trip to the Olympics was meant to serve as a counter to North Korea's massive propaganda machine and that media reports indicating otherwise have bolstered the rogue nation's image at a time when it is aggressively pursuing its nuclear weapons program.
"With its fawning coverage of Kim Yo Jong and the Kim regime, much of the U.S. media has unintentionally become complicit in North Korea's charm offensive," said one senior administration official who expressed dismay over the recent coverage in conversations with the Free Beacon.
The Trump administration is not backing down from its efforts to confront North Korea, sanction its nuclear program, and confront the country's propaganda machine, these officials said.
"The U.S. is in no way easing up pressure on the regime," one senior U.S. official familiar with the Trump administration's strategy told the Free Beacon on Monday. "And unlike much of the mainstream media, the Trump administration is not falling for North Korea's transparent propaganda."
"The [vice president and president] will continue to apply maximum pressure and keep all means necessary on the table to denuclearize the Korean peninsula," the official said.
Pence's presence at the Olympics—despite numerous reports claiming otherwise—was meant to serve "as a foil" to the fawning media coverage of North Korea and make clear that the Trump administration is not failing for the act.
"The [vice president] did exactly what he set out to accomplish," according to senior Trump administration officials. "He served as a foil and constant reminder to the North Koreans that the U.S. would not turn a blind eye to its behavior—and would not allow it to be normalized."
Pence's comments over the weekend about being willing to talk to North Korea have been taken out of context by the media, which reported this as a sea change in policy.
While Pence said the administration is open to talks, he made it clear after returning from his trip that "there will be NO reward for talks," according to a tweet from his official account.
On the sidelines of his trip to South Korea, where the Winter Olympics are being held, Pence held multiple conversations with South Korean President Moon Jae-In and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Pence is said to have expressed the United States' strong commitment to its alliance with these countries as they continue to fight North Korean aggression.
"The three leaders sat in solidarity in front of Kim Yo Jong," who waged a charm offensive over the weekend, an official said.
Pence also helmed the announcement of massive new sanctions on North Korea in the days leading up to the Olympics, a move that represents a "continuation of the U.S.'s maximum pressure campaign to get them to halt their nuclear pursuits," one senior U.S. official said.
Pence also brought on his visit to the Olympics Fred Warmbier, the father of an American college student who died after being tortured and abused in a North Korean detention center.
The global media's efforts to present North Korea as on the road to reformation was the subject of a scathing Fox News article over the weekend, which chided American reporters for falling victim to North Korea's propaganda.
"Keep in mind, this weekend isn't the first time main stream media has fallen for the DPRK's [Democratic People's Republic of Korea's] charade—[NBC anchor] Lester Holt fell for it when he conducted a cheery interview on a ski slope in North Korea, providing a platform for North Korean propaganda" said the U.S. official, referring to a recent NBC report that came under fire for painting an inaccurate picture of North Korea, which remains one of the foremost global abusers of human rights.