N Korea cancelled Pence Olympic meeting in S Korea, says US

US Vice-President Mike Pence in front of North Korea's Kim Yong-nam (C) and Kim Yo-jong (R) Image copyright Pool
Image caption Mike Pence was seated directly in front of the North Korean delegation at the opening ceremony

US Vice-President Mike Pence was due to meet North Korean officials at the Winter Olympics last week, US officials have said, but the North Koreans pulled out at the last moment.

Mr Pence was in South Korea for the opening of the Winter Olympics.

A spokesman said he was scheduled to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister, Kim Yo-jong, among others.

It would have been the first official interaction between North Korea and the Trump administration.

North Korea has made no comment on the US reports.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said when the "possibility arose" of a brief meeting with the North Korean delegation, Mr Pence "was ready to take this opportunity to drive home the necessity of North Korea abandoning its illicit ballistic missile and nuclear programs".

"At the last minute, DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] officials decided not to go forward with the meeting. We regret their failure to seize this opportunity," she said in a statement.

North Korea's attendance at the Winter Olympics was seen as a major thaw in consistently tense relations on the Korean peninsula.

But there were also concerns that Pyongyang, which has been widely condemned for its repeated testing of nuclear weapons and conventional missiles, was using the event simply to improve its international image.

The US - among others - has warned against easing pressure on the North Koreans to abandon their nuclear programme and improve their human rights situation.

Mr Pence was criticised by some for not engaging diplomatically with the North Koreans while in South Korea.

He sat feet away from Kim Yo-jong - who is accused of human rights violations - at the Games but did not interact with her, saying: "I didn't believe it was proper for the United States of America to give her any attention in that forum."

Mr Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers, said North Korea had "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".

"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," he said.

On leaving the Games, Mr Pence said the US and its allies remained firmly aligned on North Korea

"There is no daylight between the United States, the Republic of Korea and Japan on the need to continue to isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically until they abandon their nuclear and ballistic missile programme."

However, South Korea's President Moon Jae-in has said he is considering accepting an invitation to visit Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang.

It would be the first summit in more than a decade between Korean leaders.

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