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N. Korea nixed Pence meeting after tirade

Updated February 22, 2018

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WASHINGTON: Mike Pence and North Korean officials had planned to meet secretly during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, but Pyongyang scrapped the talks after the US vice president denounced abuses from the “murderous regime”, US officials said.

Pence did not interact with the North Koreans even though he was seated in the same box as them at the opening ceremony of the Games on Feb 9 — nor did he shake hands with the North’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam during an earlier leaders’ reception.

The North Koreans, who had sent Kim Yong Nam and leader Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong to the Games, backed out of the planned meeting after Pence announced Washington would soon unveil its “toughest and most aggressive sanctions” against Pyongyang.

During his Asian tour, he also denounced the North’s nuclear drive and sought to shore up ties with regional allies — and long-time North Korean foes — Japan and South Korea.

Pence, who led the American delegation to the Games, said at the time he travelled with the father of late former prisoner Otto Warmbier to the South to “remind the world of the atrocities happening in North Korea.”

“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,” Pence’s spokesman Ayers said.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said only a “brief meeting” with North Korean leaders had been on the table.

“The vice president was ready to take this opportunity to drive home the necessity of North Korea abandoning its illicit ballistic missile and nuclear programmes,” Nauert said.

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2018