The White House and State Department revealed on Tuesday that North Korean officials offered to meet with Vice President Mike Pence during the Winter Olympics in South Korea, but retracted their offer at the last minute after Pence condemned North Korea’s human rights violations.
“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,” said Nick Ayers, Vice President Pence’s chief of staff. Ayers explained:
Instead, the vice president met with defectors who escaped tyranny, hosted Fred Warmbier, whose son was essentially murdered by North Korea, pointed out their atrocious record on human rights and enslavement of hundreds of thousands of their people, spoke about their hostile plans with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and announced a new round of tough economic sanctions were on the way.
“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 charged. “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. Perhaps that’s why they walked away from a meeting or perhaps they were never sincere about sitting down.”
“The vice president was ready to take this opportunity to drive home the necessity of North Korea abandoning its illicit ballistic missile and nuclear programs. At the last minute, DPRK officials decided not to go forward with the meeting,” confirmed State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
“We regret their failure to seize this opportunity. We will not apologize for American values, for calling attention to human rights abuses, or for mourning a young American’s unjust death,” Nauert said, referring to Otto Warmbier.
These statements were the first indication the U.S. had planned a meeting with North Korean officials and then canceled. The State Department and Pence indicated all along that Pence was willing to meet with Pyongyang’s representatives while he was in South Korea, but only if they were serious about engaging in nuclear disarmament negotiations.
North Korea, on the other hand, publicly insisted it had no intention of meeting with the vice president during the Olympics, and gave no indication it had quietly offered or withdrawn such a conference.
Instead, North Korea floated the possibility of a bilateral summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, to be held in Pyongyang. Moon campaigned on improving relations with North Korea, but he has been notably reluctant to endorse the summit idea, pointedly refusing to answer questions about it at a press availability on Monday.
“We are hoping that the ongoing talks between the South and North will lead to talks between the United States and North Korea and eventually to denuclearization dialogue,” Moon said from the Olympic village in Pyeongchang.