Mr Pence was set to meet with the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Kim Yo Jong, alongside North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam. But, just before the planned meeting, the North Koreans pulled out, according to the Washington Post.
The Vice President’s office confirmed the scheduled meeting, which was cancelled after Mr Pence used his trip to Korea to denounce the North’s nuclear ambitions and to announce the “toughest and most aggressive” sanctions against the country. Mr Pence also met with Japanese and South Korean officials to solidify the alliance between the US and those countries.
Mr Pence’s visit to South Korea for the start of the 2018 Olympic games was promoted by his office as an effort to push back on North Korea’s efforts to use the games for propaganda purposes.
During the games, Mr Kim reportedly invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang to begin talks “soon”. Had that invitation been accepted by Mr Moon, it would likely have cause discomfort for Washington, which has been trying to put intense economic pressure on North Korea through sanctions to force the regime to scrap its nuclear testings programme.
“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 Mr Pence’s chief of staff, told the Washington Post.
“North Korea would have strongly preferred the vice president not use the world stage to call attention to those absolute facts or to display our strong alliance with those committed to the maximum-pressure campaign,” he continued. “But as we’ve said from Day One about the trip: This administration will stand in the way of Kim’s desire to whitewash their murderous regime with nice photo ops at the Olympics.”
During the opening ceremony, Mr Pence was seated near the North Korean delegation, but remained stone faced when athletes from other countries arrived in the stadium. Mr Pence stood and applauded American athletes when they came around.