Washington, Feb 21 (IANS) Pyongyang cancelled “at the last minute” a meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence scheduled to be held during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea, Washington has said.
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert in a statement on Tuesday said that during Pence’s visit, “the possibility arose of a brief meeting with the North Korean delegation leaders,” but at the last minute, the North Korean officials “decided not to go forward with the meeting. We regret their failure to seize this opportunity,” she said.
Nauert’s statement came after The Washington Post published an exclusive about North Korea cancelling the meeting with Pence.
On February 10, less than two hours before Pence and his team were to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong and North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong-nam, Pyongyang pulled out of the scheduled meeting, according to Pence’s office.
The North Korean decision to withdraw from the meeting came after Pence used his trip to denounce the North’s nuclear ambitions and announce the “toughest and most aggressive” sanctions yet against the regime, while also taking steps to further solidify the US alliance with Japan and South Korea, the Post reported.
The cancellation also came as the North Korean leader, through his sister, invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang for talks.
Kim’s call for Moon to hold talks would likely cause consternation in Washington, where the Trump administration has been leading a campaign to put “maximum pressure” on the North Korean regime to give up its nuclear programme.
Pence’s actions and rhetoric in the run-up to the Olympics contrasted with the image of progress being promoted by the South Koreans, who would have been eager to involve the US in direct talks with the North.
The North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency had unleashed a torrent of vitriol against the Vice President, saying that “Pence must know that his frantic acts of abusing the sacred Olympics for confrontational ruckus are as foolish and stupid an act as sweeping the sea with a broom”.
Pence’s stony demeanor and ramrod posture at the Opening Ceremonies earned snarky reviews in the South Korean media, with some grousing that he had snubbed the North Koreans and even disrespected the Olympic Games.