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North Korea pulled out of Olympic meeting with Mike Pence, says US

US vice-president Mike Pence, North Korea’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong attend the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, South Korea on 9 February. Photo: ReutersPremium
US vice-president Mike Pence, North Korea’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong attend the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, South Korea on 9 February. Photo: Reuters

North Korea pulled out of the meeting after Mike Pence announced new sanctions over Kim Jong Un's nuclear weapons programme and harshly criticized the regime

Washington: US vice president Mike Pence was willing to meet with Kim Jong Un’s envoys earlier this month during the Winter Olympics in South Korea, but the North Koreans backed out, the Trump administration said.

“North Korea dangled a meeting in hopes of the vice president softening his message, which would have ceded the world stage for their propaganda during the Olympics,’’ Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, said Tuesday in a statement. “This administration will stand in the way of Kim’s desire to whitewash their murderous regime with nice photo ops at the Olympics. Perhaps that’s why they walked away from a meeting, or perhaps they were never sincere about sitting down.’’

Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader’s younger sister, and Kim Yong Nam, the country’s ceremonial head of state, attended the opening ceremonies 9 February, as part of an Olympic detente with host South Korea. During a five-day trip to Japan and South Korea on his way to the Pyeongchang Games, Pence repeatedly floated the idea of meeting with North Korean officials, only to pass up several opportunities.

Olympics gamesmanship

“We’ll see what happens," Pence said, before departing for South Korea.

The North Koreans cancelled a meeting within two hours of the scheduled time, according to the Washington Post, which had earlier reported that Pence planned a secret meeting with Kim Yo Jong and Kim Yong Nam. It would’ve been the highest level of engagement between American and North Korean officials in more than a decade.

North Korea pulled out of the meeting after Pence announced new sanctions over Kim’s nuclear weapons program and harshly criticized the regime, Ayers said.

“At the last minute, #DPRK officials decided not to go forward with the meeting," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Twitter, referring the North Korea’s formal name. “We regret their failure to seize this opportunity."

While in Pyeongchang, Pence’s behaviour drew a sharp contrast with that of South Korean president Moon Jae-In, who hosted Kim Yo Jong at a lunch Saturday. The younger Kim invited Moon to a potentially historic meeting with her brother in Pyongyang, although Moon has yet to accept the offer.

Pence missed a group photo organised by South Korea for world leaders before the Games. He stayed for only about five minutes at a reception hosted by Moon, and didn’t interact with Kim Yong Nam, who was also in the room and slated to sit at the same table. At the opening ceremony, Pence didn’t shake hands with Kim Yo Jong, who was just a few feet away.

Moon’s office said Wednesday in Seoul that it had “nothing to share or comment" regarding the Trump administration’s comments. Bloomberg

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