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Pence Planned To Meet North Koreans At Olympics, But Pyongyang Canceled

Vice President Pence and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Gangneung Ice Arena at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, on Feb. 10.
Bernat Armangue
Vice President Pence and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Gangneung Ice Arena at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, on Feb. 10.

A meeting that was to have taken place between Vice President Pence and representatives of North Korea during the Winter Olympic Games fell apart when Pyongyang suddenly backed out, the State Department says.

The meeting, between Pence and Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Nam, North Korea's nominal head of state, was to have taken place on Feb. 10 during the vice president's three-day visit to the Olympic venue.

However, "At the last minute, DPRK [North Korean] officials decided not to go forward with the meeting," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

"The Vice President was ready to take this opportunity to drive home the necessity of North Korea abandoning its illicit ballistic missile and nuclear programs," Nauert said.

As we reported earlier this month, the vice president had left open the possibility of such a meeting, but Nauert's remarks on Tuesday were the first official acknowledgement that one had been in the works.

Two days before the meeting was to take place, North Korea's Foreign Ministry publicly denied there was any such plan, saying: "We are not going to use such a sports festival as the Winter Olympics as a political lever. There is no need to do so."

NPR reported on Feb. 10 that Pence was drawing criticism for his "cold demeanor toward the North Koreans" at the games.

And, in the days leading up to the Olympics, the vice president had warned that Pyongyang was trying to "hijack the message and imagery" of the games for its own propaganda.

According to The Washington Post:

"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 U.S. alliance with Japan and South Korea.

The cancellation also came as Kim Jong Un, through his sister, invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang to begin talks 'soon'— a development that would be likely to cause consternation in Washington, where the Trump administration has been leading a campaign to put 'maximum pressure' on the Kim regime to give up its nuclear program. Moon said through a spokesman that he would try to make the visit to the North."

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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