During an interview on Air Force Two returning from the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Pence told The Washington Post that the US and South Korean President Moon Jae-in had agreed on further engagement with North Korea.
The Moon government has been engaging in a delicate balancing act between Pyongyang and its longtime ally Washington after Kim Jong Un offered to send a delegation to the Olympics in the South. Moon has accommodated the North's demands on Olympics participation in hopes of persuading Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table to discuss denuclearization, while trying to allay concern in Washington that the North was using a "charm offensive" to simply ease sanctions and earn time to complete its nuclear weapons program.
However, senior US 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.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Pence reportedly hinted at the possibility of the U.S. holding talks with the North, by stating if the North wants to talk, the USA will talk.
Moon assured Pence he would tell the North Koreans clearly that they would not get economic or diplomatic benefits for just talking - only for taking concrete steps toward denuclearization.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Pence was quoted as describing the approach as 'maximum pressure and engagement at the same time'.
These remarks reinforce the idea that Washington is looking to continue its maximum pressure campaign but that the door to dialogue with North Korea is simultaneously open. Based on that assurance, Pence felt confident he could endorse post-Olympic engagement with Pyongyang.
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 United States, too, looks positively at South-North Korean dialogue and has expressed its willingness to start dialogue with the North", president Moon stated via his spokesperson Kim Eui-Kyeom.
He reiterated that the U.S. does not rule out a military option to deal with Pyongyang's nuclear and missile threat and keeps pressuring the country in coordination with Japan and South Korea.
This is the first time that a relative of the North Korean leader has made an official visit to the South.