Thu, Feb 22, 2018 - Page 1 News List

US says N Korea passed up meeting with vice president


U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, front, North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong attend the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, South Korea Feb. 9.

Photo: Reuters

US Vice President Mike Pence was to hold a history-making meeting with North Korean officials at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, but Kim Jong-un’s government canceled at the last minute, US President Donald Trump’s administration said on Tuesday.

A potential meeting between Pence and North Korean officials had been the most highly anticipated moment of the vice president’s visit to Pyeongchang, where he led the US delegation to the Olympic Games opening ceremony.

Ahead of Pence’s visit, Trump officials had insisted they had requested no meeting with North Korea, but notably left open the possibility one could occur.

There was no indication that a meeting had been planned — and then canceled on short notice — until Tuesday, more than a week after Pence returned to the US.

The US Department of State said that Pence had been “ready to take this opportunity,” but would have used it to insist Pyongyang abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

“At the last minute, DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] officials decided not to go forward with the meeting,” US Department of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. “We regret their failure to seize this opportunity.”

That seemed to contradict North Korea’s own claim that it had no interest in meeting with Pence while he was in Pyeongchang.

“We have no intention to meet with the US side during the stay in South Korea,” a North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs official was quoted as saying by the North’s official news agency on Feb. 8, the day Pence arrived in South Korea.

“We are not going to use a sports festival such as the Winter Olympics as a political lever. There is no need to do so,” the official said.

A Trump administration official said the US had expected the meeting to occur on Feb. 10, the last day of Pence’s three-day visit to South Korea.

The administration did not say exactly how much notice it received from North Korea that the meeting had been called off, nor where the meeting would have taken place or under what conditions.

It was not immediately clear whether North Korea scheduled the meeting before or after the vice president arrived in South Korea.

The day before landing in Pyeonchang, Pence told reporters that “we haven’t requested a meeting with North Korea.”

“But if I have any contact with them — in any context — over the next two days, my message will be the same as it was here today: North Korea needs to once and for all abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions,” Pence said.

A potential high-level interaction between the US and North Korea, which would have broken years of estrangement between the two countries, loomed prominently over the Games, where North Korea made a last-minute move to send its athletes to compete on a combined team with South Korea.

Since taking office, the Trump administration has been working to increase economic pressure on the North to abandon its nuclear programs while also threatening military action, insisting at the same time that a diplomatic solution would be preferable for all sides.

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