A secret meeting planned between Vice President Mike Pence and North Korean officials at the Olympics was scrapped at the last minute, an official in Pence's office has confirmed to ABC News.
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An account of the planned meeting was first reported in the Washington Post. The meeting was set for Saturday, Feb. 10 between Pence and Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Nam, North Korea's nominal head of state, but the North Koreans pulled out, citing new sanctions the U.S. announced before Pence's arrival in South Korea, according to the official.
In a statement, Nick Ayers, Pence's chief of staff said, “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," adding Pence would have confronted the North Koreans about human rights abuses and their nuclear weapons ambitions.
According to the Post, citing White House officials, President Donald Trump and Pence had agreed beforehand that the goal of any meeting would not be to open any negotiations with Kim’s regime, but to deliver the administration’s tough stance against North Korea face-to-face.
"This administration will stand in the way of Kim’s desire to whitewash their murderous regime with nice photo ops at the Olympics," Ayers said. "Perhaps that’s why they walked away from a meeting or perhaps they were never sincere about sitting down. The President made a decision that if they wanted to talk, we would deliver our uncompromising message. If they asked for a meeting, we would meet. He also made clear that until they agreed to complete denuclearization we weren’t going to change any of our positions or negotiate.”
At the Olympics opening ceremony, Pence sat just a few feet away from Kim Yo Jong, but did not acknowledge her.