North Korea pulled out of high-level Olympics meeting , says US

Planned talks between Mike Pence and Kim Jong-un’s sister axed over tough US rhetoric

US vice-president Mike Pence and Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, at the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games in South Korea. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images

US vice-president Mike Pence and Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, at the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games in South Korea. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images

 

North Korea pulled out of what would have been the highest-level meeting with US officials in almost two decades less than two hours before it was scheduled to start, White House officials have revealed.

According to US officials, North Korea “dangled” an opportunity for Mike Pence, US vice-president, to meet a high-level political delegation from Pyongyang following the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea earlier this month.

But hours before Mr Pence was to meet Kim Yo-jong – the influential sister of North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un – the reclusive regime backed out in a move US officials said was a result of Mr Pence’s tough rhetoric.

“As we’ve said from day one . . . the administration will stand in the way of Kim’s desire to whitewash their murderous regime with nice photo ops at the Olympics,” said Nick Ayers, chief of staff to the vice-president.

“Perhaps that is why they walked away from the meeting or perhaps they were never sincere about sitting down.”

North Korea has a long history of cancelling meetings and walking away from negotiations as a means to increase its leverage.

The revelation adds a new twist to the Olympic diplomacy, which has seen Mr Kim attempt to exploit the differences in strategy between allies Washington and Seoul.

Under President Moon Jae-in, South Korea is seeking to engage with North Korea in the hope that dialogue can eventually lead to negotiations on the regime’s nuclear weapons programme.

The US, meanwhile, has adopted a “maximum pressure” approach to North Korea in an attempt to coerce it to abandon its arsenal of atomic weapons.

Before the games’s opening ceremony on February 9th, there were tentative hopes that Mr Pence could meet Ms Kim on the sidelines, despite the US vice-president’s hardline rhetoric about the regime.

New sanctions

En route to South Korea, Mr Pence announced new sanctions on the North. He then met defectors who had escaped the isolated country.

“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,” Mr Ayers added.

The US state department said: “We will not apologise for American values, for calling attention to human rights abuses.”

During the opening ceremony, Mr Pence ignored Ms Kim and the rest of the delegation from Pyongyang, which included Kim Yong-nam, the 90-year-old ceremonial head of state.

The display, while later criticised and mocked in western and South Korean media, was lauded by US officials for not giving face to the “most oppressive regime on earth”.

The Pyongyang officials pulled out of the meeting the next day. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018