The North Korean delegation to the Olympics returned to Pyongyang Tuesday, officially ending this round of sports-related politics aimed at trying to resolve the North Korea crisis.
The question remains: Is either side any closer to a diplomatic gold medal?
“I think there was a missed opportunity here to at least ‘talk about talks’,” former Associated Press Pyongyang bureau chief Jean Lee told Fox News.
Lee was specifically referring to a meeting Vice President Pence was scheduled to have during his visit to the Games, which was abruptly cancelled by the North Koreans. It turned out they reportedly didn’t like the style of Pence’s talk.
There was another uptick of optimism at the end of the Games when visiting North Korea official Kim Yong-chol told South Korean President Moon that Pyongyang remained open to talks with the U.S.
That possibility left as quickly as the U.S. delegation did from the Seoul airport.
President Trump later said talks were possible “under the right conditions,” which includes the final goal of the denuclearization of the North.
And that left President Moon, who had counted on the Olympics to ease tensions, holding the diplomatic bag. He asked the U.S. to “lower the threshold” for holding talks. And made no reference to his own invitation from North Korea for a summit.
Some experts think it was an accomplishment to get North Korea, at least, to offer some kind of discussion with the U.S.
Long-time North Korea observer Andrei Lankov told Fox News Pyongyang reached that point, thanks to President Trump’s muscular rhetoric.
“Kim Jong Un worries above all about the growing possibility of a military strike,” Lankov suggested, “so he will probably behave a bit more cautiously.”
Still, Lankov and others Fox News spoke with feel that there is little chance North Korea will budge on the key point: Getting rid of their nukes.
“I don’t see any kind of policy that will achieve the desired result, a non-nuclear North Korea,” Lankov concluded.
This comes amid word that key State Department North Korea advisor Joseph Yun is departing at the end of the week. He was an advocate for diplomacy in dealing with Pyongyang.
A key signal on where this crisis is headed comes next month when the U.S. will announce whether to resume paused joint-military exercises with South Korea, so hated by the North.
“If and when they decide to hold those (military) games,” Korea expert Jean Lee noted, “we could be back to ‘square one.’”
In fact, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, traveling with Ivanka Trump recently in South Korea, told Fox News such a resumption was “pretty likely."
Experts tell Fox News that if the exercises resume, so will North Korea's missile and nuke testing.
One last hope is the Paralympic Winter Games in South Korea, set to begin March 8. They will also include North Korean and U.S. athletes – which could give this hot regional crisis one last “sporting” shot at cooling off.