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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

We have no intention to meet US authorities during our visit to the South: North Korea

Thousands of troops and hundreds of armoured vehicles participated in a show of strength in the centre of Pyongyang

North Korea has no intention to meet US officials during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in the South, state media said on Thursday as Pyongyang made a show of strength with a military parade a day ahead of the opening ceremony.

The nuclear-armed North is on an Olympics-linked publicity drive - sending a troupe of performers, hundreds of female cheerleaders, and the sister of leader Kim Jong-un to the South.

But at the same time thousands of troops and hundreds of armoured vehicles have been seen rehearsing for what would be a show of strength in the centre of the capital.

Analysts say that with the dual approach, the North is looking to normalise its status as a "de facto nuclear state", and could be trying to weaken the sanctions against it or drive a wedge between the South and its ally the US.

"We have no intention whatsoever to meet US authorities during our visit to the South," Cho Yong Sam, a senior foreign ministry official, was quoted as saying by the North's official KCNA news agency.

"We have never begged for dialogue with the US and will never do so," he said.

But his comments did not rule out a meeting - and nor has US Vice President Mike Pence, who is due in the South on Thursday.

North Korea is under multiple sets of UN Security Council sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, which have seen it develop rockets capable of reaching the US mainland.

Both Kim Yong Nam, the North's ceremonial head of state, who is leading its delegation, and Mr Pence are due to attend the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang on Friday.

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That could put them in the same room at a leaders' reception beforehand.

Mr Pence has lambasted the North, announcing in Tokyo on Wednesday that the US would impose its toughest sanctions to date on the regime.

The US "will not allow North Korean propaganda to hijack the message and imagery of the Olympic Games".

But on his way to Asia, he left open the possibility of meeting any of Pyongyang's representatives.

"I have not requested a meeting, but we'll see what happens," he said.

The military parade in Pyongyang marked the 70th anniversary of its armed forces, with regiments of soldiers goose-stepping in formation through Kim Il Sung Square followed by increasingly heavy weapons.

Unlike the North's last parade in April 2017, state television did not show the event live, instead airing it hours later.

Fireworks went off as leader Kim Jong-un took his place on the rostrum to watch the display, along with his wife Ri Sol Ju and ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam - who will head Pyongyang's delegation to the Olympics on Friday.

"We ... have become capable of showcasing our stature as a world-class military power to the world," said Mr Kim, wearing a long black coat and black fedora.

The military should remain on high alert to ensure that invaders could not violate the North's sovereignty "even by 0.001mm", he said.

"Long Live" cried the assembled troops, their breath condensing in the subzero temperatures and some of them in tears at the sight of the leader.

The Winter Olympics, which will take place just 80 kilometres south of the Demilitarised Zone that divides the two Koreas, have triggered a rapid rapprochement on the peninsula, although analysts warn that warmer relations may not last long beyond the Games.

Tensions soared last year as the North carried out multiple weapons tests, including intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the US mainland, and by far its most powerful nuclear test to date.

The Winter Olympics have triggered a rapid rapprochement on the peninsula, although analysts warn that warmer relations may not last long beyond the Games.

For months Pyongyang ignored Seoul's entreaties to take part in a "peace Olympics" until Mr Kim indicated his willingness to do so in his New Year speech.

That set off a rapid series of meetings which saw the two Koreas agree to march together at the opening ceremony and form a unified women's ice hockey team, their first for 27 years.

But critics in the South say Seoul has made too many concessions to Pyongyang, and demonstrators protested on Thursday as a North Korean orchestra gave a sold-out performance in Gangneung, which is hosting Olympic events.

But others were making the most of the rare event.

"I think it will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity unless we are reunified," said Kim Mi-sook, who attended the concert with her husband.