Vice President Pence was scheduled to meet with North Korean officials during his stop in Pyeongchang, South Korea, during the Winter Olympics earlier this month, but the North Koreans canceled, Pence’s office confirmed Tuesday.
According to The Washington Post, which was the first to report on the meeting and its subsequent cancellation, Pence and his aides were slated to meet Feb. 10 with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, and North Korea’s nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam. However, the North Koreans called off the meeting a couple hours before it was set to take place.
“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, the vice president’s chief of staff, said in a statement.
The meeting was in the works for a couple weeks, and was scheduled before Pence departed for his trip through Asia on Feb. 5, according to the Post. Pence was expected to use the meeting to vocalize the Trump administration’s stance against North Korea.
Pyongyang reportedly objected to Pence’s announcement of forthcoming sanctions, as well as his meeting with North Korean defectors.
“We regret [the North Koreans’] failure to seize this opportunity,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement. “We will not apologize for American values, for calling attention to human rights abuses, or for mourning a young American’s unjust death,” she added, referring to Otto Warmbier, who died after being arrested in North Korea, and whose father Pence met with during the Olympics.
Pence said leading up to the Olympics that he intended to use his appearance at the opening ceremonies to push back against any favorable media narrative the North Koreans generated by attending the Winter Games.
The vice president caused a stir in the media when he was seated a few feet away from Kim Yo Jong during the opening ceremonies, but did not acknowledge her.
Tensions have cooled recently between North and South Korea, as the two countries have engaged in talks for the first time in years.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, has taken a more rigid approach.
Pence has said the Trump administration is willing to talk with North Korea, but would continue to pressure the government to end its nuclear program.