President Donald Trump's administration has settled on who will lead the U.S. delegation at the PyeongChang Olympics: Vice President Mike Pence and his wife. Both Mike and Karen Pence are going to the Winter Olympics in South Korea when the games begin in February. The visit will not be the vice president's first trip to the Korean peninsula, however.
In April, Pence visited the Demilitarized Zone, the heavily guarded border that separates North and South Korea. This time around, the vice president and second lady's trip will include stops in Alaska and Japan. Pence is also "expected" to be joined by White House adviser and first daughter Ivanka Trump, The Wall Street Journal reports, while the paper also says President Trump could name other members of the delegation as soon as Wednesday, Jan. 10.
During a White House press briefing a day before, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicated the same. When asked whether the administration would be naming a delegation soon, she replied, "Yes, we do. And that will happen probably in the coming days. And we’ll make sure, again, we keep all of you guys certainly in the loop."
Reports of Pence leading a U.S. delegation at the winter games came shortly after North Korea announced that it would be sending its own representatives to the PyeongChang Olympics.
"The North Korean participation is an opportunity for the regime to see the value of ending its international isolation by denuclearizing," Sanders said during Tuesday's White House press briefing. " We hope that we can continue to move forward on that front, but certainly doesn’t affect our participation."
North Korea's decision to send a delegation to its neighboring country was made after representatives from the north and south met together for diplomatic talks. Prior to the talks, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he was "willing" to allow his country to be represented at the Olympics.
"I am willing to send a delegation and take necessary measures, and I believe that the authorities of the North and South can urgently meet to discuss the matter," the North Korean leader said. "We sincerely hope that the South will successfully host the Olympics."
After the talks, that willingness turned into an actual decision to send a "high-level" delegation to South Korea in February, made up of a group of athletes and journalists, among others.
The athletes most likely to participate compete at the games are North Korean figure skaters Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik, who already qualified for the games in September, but missed a deadline to submit for participation after North Korean officials neglected to do. The International Olympics Committee has indicated that it will waive the deadline for the two athletes.
On Tuesday, Steven Goldstein — an under secretary at the U.S. State Department, which oversees American diplomacy — welcomed North Korea's inclusion.
"North Korea is sending an officially recognized delegation of athletes, fans, and support staff to the 23rd Olympic Winter Games, to be hosted by South Korea in Pyeongchang next month," Goldstein said during a briefing. "We are confident the Republic of Korea will host a safe, secure, and successful Winter Games. Anything that lowers tensions on the Korean Peninsula is a positive development. We’re in close consultation with the Republic of Korea to ensure North Korea’s participation in the Olympics does not violate UN Security Council sanctions, and I’ll be happy to answer any questions regarding that."
There's been no indication however, that Pence will meet with North Korean officials during his trip abroad. The vice president's inclusion in the American delegation almost certainly means President Trump won't be in South Korea for the games.