Vice President Mike Pence planned to meet several North Korean officials during his visit to Asia earlier this month, but the meeting was called off at the last minute after Pence repeatedly used his trip to slam the regime, The Washington Post first reported on Tuesday.
The meeting was supposed to take place between Pence and members of the North Korean delegation at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, including Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong and North Korea’s nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam. It was arranged two weeks before Pence’s five-day trip across Asia after the CIA was informed the North Korean’s hoped to meet with the vice president, according to the Post.
However, North Korea decided to cancel the clandestine meeting just hours before it was set to take place at the South Korean president’s residence in Seoul. The country reportedly withdrew after Pence used his visit to repeatedly condemn North Korea, including through his meetings with defectors from the country, a visit to a memorial honoring South Koreans killed in 2010 and his hosting of Fred Warmbier at the Opening Ceremony, the father of the American student imprisoned for 17 months by the regime, who died last year soon after his return to the U.S.
Pence’s office defended his actions in a statement Tuesday and questioned the motives of the North Koreans, accusing the country of trying to “whitewash their murderous regime.”
“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,” Nick Ayers, the vice president’s chief of staff, said in a statement obtained by HuffPost. “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. Perhaps that’s why they walked away from a meeting or perhaps they were never sincere about sitting down.”
Ayers noted that Trump agreed to the meeting but only to reiterate that the U.S. would be uncompromising in its calls for North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programs, saying the president “made clear that until they agreed to complete denuclearization we weren’t going to change any of our positions or negotiate.”
Tuesday’s report follows a days-long campaign of icy disinterest between Pence and the North Koreans. During the Opening Ceremony, the vice president and his wife were seated just in front of Kim Yo Jong and Kim Yong Nam, but they never spoke or even appear to acknowledge each other.
On his way home from South Korea earlier this month, Pence told the Post the U.S. would be willing to speak with North Korea, but he continued to say that the White House would maintain a “maximum pressure campaign” on the country.
North Korea was able to score some diplomatic points, however. Kim Jong Un extended an invitation to South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang for a summit.
While Moon hasn’t confirmed if he’ll accept, a spokesman told reporters that the two countries should “work together to create the environment to make it happen,” The New York Times reported.