Pence slams North Korea leader's 'tyrannical' sister after near meet
US Vice President Mike Pence (R) and North Korea's Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong at the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Pyeongchang Stadium on February 9, 2018 AFP/File / Odd ANDERSEN

US Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday assailed the North Korean leader's sister who sat near him at the Olympics as part of an "evil family clique" that oppresses millions.

Pence and Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, sat in the same box during the February 9 opening ceremony of the Winter Games in Seoul, but the pair did not interact.

That scene, broadcast worldwide, was closely watched for its diplomatic signals.

US officials said later that Pence and North Korean officials had planned to meet secretly during the Games, but that Pyongyang scrapped the talks at the last minute after he criticized the "murderous regime."

Pence on Thursday had choice words for the North Korean leader's sister, who was given wide press coverage during her appearance at the games.

"The sister of Kim Jong Un is a central pillar of the most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet, an evil family clique that brutalizes, subjugates, starves and imprisons its 25 million people," he told thousands attending the Conservative Political Action Conference.

"For all those in the media who think I should have stood and cheered with the North Koreans, I say: the United States of America doesn't stand with murderous dictatorships, we stand up to murderous dictatorships," Pence said, to loud cheers.

"And we will keep standing strong until North Korea stops threatening our country, our allies, or until they abandon their nuclear and ballistic missiles once and for all."

During his Asian tour, Pence denounced the North's nuclear drive and sought to shore up ties with regional allies -- and longtime North Korean foes -- Japan and South Korea.