Vice President Mike Pence was secretly set to meet with North Korean officials earlier this month while visiting South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics, according to White House officials on Tuesday, but the North Koreans backed out "at the last minute," Bloomberg reported.
“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,” Nick Ayers, Pence's chief of staff, said in a statement Tuesday.
Pence and other U.S. officials were scheduled for a "secret meeting" with Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s nominal head of state, on Feb. 10. The North Koreans pulled out just two hours before the meeting was to begin, according to Bloomberg.
The North Korean's withdrawal came after Pence criticized Kim Jong Un's regime for its human rights abuses and after he announced the "toughest and most aggressive” sanctions against North Korea.
“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 in the statement. "Perhaps that’s why they walked away from a meeting, or perhaps they were never sincere about sitting down.’’
The vice president also moved to solidify the U.S. alliance with Japan and South Korea on his trip.
The U.S. has put pressure on North Korea's communist leader to denuclearize after it fired numerous missile tests last year.