US set to slap 'toughest and most aggressive' sanctions on North Korea

The US is preparing to announce the "toughest and most aggressive" economic sanctions against North Korea, boosting pressure on the regime during the Winter Olympics, Mike Pence has said.

The US vice president said: "The United States of America will soon unveil the toughest and most aggressive round of economic sanctions on North Korea ever - and we will continue to isolate North Korea until it abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes once and for all."

Mr Pence, who is set to lead the US delegation to the Olympics opening ceremonies on Friday, made the announcement in Japan on Wednesday after meetings prime minister Shinzo Abe.

The VP said the purpose of his trip is to ensure the North cannot "hijack" the Games, and his schedule includes symbolic events designed to highlight North Korea's human rights abuses and nuclear programme.

Mike Pense and Donald Trump.

US officials declined to detail the expected sanctions beyond Mr Pence's comments, citing concerns that any additional information could be used by those trying to skirt the new measures.

They are expected to be implemented before the conclusion of the Games.

On a six-day trip to Japan and South Korea, Mr Pence is seeking to reassure and refocus American allies on the growing nuclear threat from North Korea.

In meetings with government leaders, military officials and US service members, he said he wants to make sure the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics do not distract from North Korean human rights abuses and nuclear programme.

He met Mr Abe at his official residence to discuss increasing pressure on the North.

"The United States is with you in this challenge," Mr Pence told Mr 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 denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula."

Mr Pence watched Japanese troops demonstrate the simulated deployment of Japan's surface-to-air missile defence system, which would attempt to intercept a North Korean missile.

He also participated in a briefing at Japan's Ministry of Defence on the threat.

"The people of Japan can be assured, the full range of the armed forces of the United States will continue to be dedicated to the protection of Japan," Mr Pence said, promising again that "all options are on the table" to address the North Korean threat.

He will travel to South Korea on 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.

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