WASHINGTON – Vice-President Mike Pence was all set to hold a history-making meeting with North Korean officials during the Winter Olympics in South Korea, but Kim Jong Un’s government cancelled at the last minute, the Trump administration said Tuesday.
Pence led the U.S. delegation to the opening ceremonies in Pyeongchang, South Korea, amid dramatic speculation that the United States and North Korea might finally sit down to talk.
North Korea had sent athletes to compete at the games along with a delegation including its nominal head of state and Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong. But while U.S. officials had left open the possibility that Pence could potentially meet with the North Koreans during the visit, they had emphasized that no such meeting was expected.
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On Tuesday, the vice-president’s office said that North Korea had “dangled a meeting” with Pence in hopes that doing so would entice Pence to ease up on the North.
Pence’s office suggested that North Korea later bailed on the meeting because it became clear that Pence would hold firm on the U.S. stance if a meeting did occur. And the State Department said that while Pence was willing to meet, he would have used the opportunity to “drive home the necessity of North Korea abandoning its illicit ballistic missile and nuclear programs.”
“We regret their failure to seize this opportunity,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, said that the planned meeting – first reported by The Washington Post – would have included an “uncompromising message” delivered by Pence about the “maximum pressure campaign” the Trump administration is waging to try to deter North Korea from proceeding with its nuclear program.
“Perhaps that’s why they walked away from a meeting, or perhaps they were never sincere about sitting down,” Ayers said.
North Korea had no immediate response to the news out of Washington. But North Korean officials had said previously that they had no interest or intention of meeting with Pence in Pyeongchang during the games.
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