North Korea cancelled a secret meeting with Vice President Mike Pence after he said the US was planning to impose the ‘most aggressive’ sanctions yet on the reclusive nation.
Pence agreed to meet with Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong and her team at the South Korean 2018 Winter Olympic Games before he even set off on his trip to Asia.
But less than two hours before they would meet on Saturday February 10, Kim Yo Jong’s team pulled out of meeting, Pence’s office told the Washington Post.
The decision reportedly came just after word got back to them that Pence announced that the United States was planning to impose the ‘toughest and most aggressive’ sanctions ever against Un’s regime.
Additionally, Pence had been using his trip to publicly denounce the country’s nuclear ambitions and to strengthen alliances with Japan and South Korea.
Pence agreed to meet with North Korean officials at the South Korean 2018 Winter Olympic Games in secret, before even leaving for his trip to Asia. Pence is pictured with Kim John Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong at the opening ceremonies
North Korean officials initially sent a warning message to Pence on the morning of February 10 – telling him they did not appreciate his rhetoric but were not going to cancel the meeting. Within two hours they had changed their minds and backed out.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert says that Pence ‘was ready to take this opportunity’ and would have used the meeting to emphasize US concerns about the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Nauert says the US regrets North Korea’s ‘failure to seize this opportunity.’
Trump and Pence agreed on the goal of the meeting ahead of time, which was reportedly to deliver the administration’s tough stance against North Korea face-to-face, two officials told the Post.
No negotiations would have been opened at the meeting, the officials said.
The decision to cancel their under-wraps meeting also came as it was revealed that Kim Jong Un had invited South Korean President Moon Jae-In to Pyongyang to begin talks via his sister.
There isn’t a set date on when that visit would happen, but Jae-In was invited ‘soon.’ The South Korean leader said through a spokesman he would try and make it happen.
South Korean leaders would have been eager to involve the United States in those talks, but Pence’s actions and rhetoric in the lead up to the Olympics were considered too digressive.
Pence’s office promoted the Asian trip as a way to combat what they feared North Korean’s plan to use the Winter Games for propaganda purposes, according to the Post.
Thus, his office portrayed the cancellation as evidence of Pence’s success.
‘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 Ayres said.
‘North Korea would have strongly preferred the vice president not use the world stage to call attention to those absolute facts or to display our strong alliance with those committed to the maximum pressure campaign.
‘But as we’ve said from day one about the trip: this administration will stand in the way of Kim’s desire to whitewash their murderous regime with nice photo ops at the Olympics.’
Speaking of the murderous regime, Ayres was referring to human rights abuses committed by Kim Jong Un’s administration.
Pence’s office said the North Koreans told them they were displeased with the new sanctions and that he’d met with North Korean defectors when cancelling the meeting.
The meeting was in the works for two weeks and started being planned after the CIA was told North Koreans wanted to meet Pence at some point during his time on the Korean Peninsula.
A White House official told the Post the meeting was set up by the South Korean government, who were serving as an intermediary. South Korean officials would not be there, but the president’s Blue House was going to serve as the neutral meeting place.
Both sides agreed to the meeting on February 5, and official plans were made when Pence touched down in Seoul on February 8.
Officials said that the meeting was going to be considered by Trump’s administrations as a continuation of the maximum pressure campaign against North Korea.
It was not meant to serve as a de-escalation of Trump’s polices.
They thought the North Koreans meant business when they sent Kim Yo Jong to serve as Jim Jong Un’s spokesperson.
Throughout Pence’s trip he has backed the administration’s combative stance against North Korea.
During the opening ceremony he sat in the same VIP box as South Koeran President Moon Jae-In, along with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and North Korea’s Km Yo Jong and Kim Yong Nam.
He ignored the North Koreans all evening – sitting during their entrance to the games. He also invited Otto Warmbier’s father Fred Warmbier to be his guest at the opening ceremony.