Mike Pence arrived in Colombia on August 13 to start a six-day, four-country tour.
His trip was dominated by reaction to President Donald Trump’s August 11 comments about a US “military option” in response to the turmoil in Venezuela.
Pence was more measured than Trump when discussing the issue, but governments in Colombia, Argentina, and Chile were quick to repudiate Trump’s comments during their meetings with Pence, and protesters met the vice president upon his arrival in Panama to voice their rejection of the president’s remarks about Venezuela.
But Pence’s efforts to get countries in the region on board with another US foreign-policy goal — isolating the Kim Jong Un regime in North Korea — also appeared to founder.
“The US places great importance on the ongoing diplomatic isolation of the Kim regime and we strongly urge Chile today, and we urge Brazil, Mexico, and Peru to break all diplomatic and commercial ties to North Korea,” Pence
said in Chile during a press conference with President Michelle Bachelet.
Despite the size of their economies — Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina are the three biggest in the region, respectively — the countries in question have little trade with North Korea, and they appeared to shrug off the request.
“Brazil follows the decisions of multilateral organisations,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman told Reuters when asked if Brasilia would break off trade and diplomatic ties. Brazil had just $US2.1 million worth of exports and $US8.7 million worth of imports with North Korea in 2016.
Peru, which has condemned Pyongyang’s missile tests in the past and reduced its embassy staff a few months ago, had not been asked directly by Washington to sever ties with North Korea nor was it planning any action, according to Reuters. Argentina said it has no relations with North Korea.
Chile was more forceful. Bachelet said separately that North Korea’s nuclear program was concerning, but Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz said his government “has not contemplated” ending relations, adding that his country’s ties with Pyongyang were “distant” because it has applied all sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council.
Pence said he would “especially welcome” Chile reclassifying its wine exports as luxury goods, thereby putting them within the purview of UN sanctions.
Muñoz cited the US’s hardline on Venezuela to rebut the request: “One could say the US exports US$11.2 billion to Venezuela, and we are not asking them to suspend sales of the products they export to that country.”
Chile sold $US65,000 worth of wine to North Korea in 2015.
While the situation in Venezuela cast a shadow over Pence’s interactions with his Latin American counterparts, that was not the sole consideration in responding to his request to end ties with the isolated Asian country.
“Yes, Latin American governments are wary of having their foreign policies confused with the harsher U.S. example,” Greg Weeks, chair of the political-science department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, told Business Insider.
“They’re also leery of having Pence leave the impression that Latin America forms part of some broader consensus about North Korea,” Weeks added. “And frankly, at no time do they want North Korea to be a policy priority for U.S.-Latin American relations.”
Pence cut his trip short, returning to the US on Thursday to attend a meeting at Camp David rather than spending the night in Panama as planned.
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