Vice President Mike Pence was ready for a secret meeting with North Korean officials at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, earlier this month, but the North backed out, according to news outlets.
Pence attended the Olympics Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9 as part of a five-day trip to Asia and was seated near Kim Jong-un’s sister, but did not speak to her, creating a media sensation.
The North canceled the meeting just two hours before Pence was scheduled to meet with Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, and another North Korean state official, Kim Yong Nam, on Feb. 10 after Pence announced new sanctions against the North Korean regime during his trip and rebuked it for its nuclear program, according to the Washington Post, which was the first to report on the secret meeting.
“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,” the vice president’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, said in a statement, according to The Hill.
News of the secret meeting comes as relations between the communist north and democratic south seem to be thawing in recent weeks with the announcement last month from Kim Jong-un that he was sending a delegation to the Olympics. He sent his sister to lead the group.
“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."
Pence said he planned to use his trip to the Olympics to prevent North Korea from using the games as a ploy for favorable propaganda on the communist regime.