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US:NKorea Canceled Meeting Last Minute 02/21 06:09

   Vice President Mike Pence was all set to hold a history-making meeting with 
North Korean officials during the Winter Olympics in South Korea, but Kim Jong 
Un's government canceled at the last minute, the Trump administration said 
Tuesday.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Vice President Mike Pence was all set to hold a 
history-making meeting with North Korean officials during the Winter Olympics 
in South Korea, but Kim Jong Un's government canceled at the last minute, the 
Trump administration said Tuesday.

   A potential meeting between Pence and the North Koreans had been the most 
highly anticipated moment of the vice president's visit to Pyeongchang, South 
Korea, where he led the U.S delegation to the opening ceremonies. Ahead of 
Pence's visit, Trump officials had insisted they'd requested no meeting with 
North Korea, but notably left open the possibility one could occur.

   There was no indication that a meeting had indeed been planned --- and then 
canceled on short notice --- until Tuesday, more than a week after Pence 
returned to the United States. The State Department said that Pence had been 
"ready to take this opportunity" but would have used it to insist Pyongyang 
abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

   "At the last minute, DPRK officials decided not to go forward with the 
meeting," said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, using an acronym 
for the North's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "We 
regret their failure to seize this opportunity."

   That seemed to contradict North Korea's own claim that it had no interest in 
meeting with Pence while he was in Pyeongchang.

   "We have no intention to meet with the U.S. side during the stay in South 
Korea," a Foreign Ministry official was quoted as saying by the North's 
official news agency on Feb. 8, the day Pence arrived in South Korea. "We are 
not going to use such a sports festival as the Winter Olympics as a political 
lever. There is no need to do so."

   A Trump administration official said the U.S. had expected the meeting to 
occur Feb. 10, the last day of Pence's three-day visit to the Olympic Games. 
The administration did not say exactly how much notice it received from North 
Korea that the meeting had been called off, nor where the meeting would have 
taken place or under what conditions.

   Nor was it immediately clear whether North Korea scheduled the meeting 
before the vice president arrived in South Korea or after he had already 
arrived. The day before landing in Pyeonchang, Pence told reporters that "we 
haven't requested a meeting with North Korea."

   "But if I have any contact with them --- in any context --- over the next 
two days, my message will be the same as it was here today: North Korea needs 
to once and for all abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions," Pence 
said.

   A potential high-level interaction between the U.S. and North Korea, which 
would have broken years of estrangement between the two countries, loomed 
prominently over the Winter Games, where North Korea made a last-minute move to 
send its athletes to compete on a combined team with South Korea, the host of 
the games.

   Since taking office, the Trump administration has been working to increase 
economic pressure on the North to abandon its nuclear programs while also 
threatening military action, insisting at the same time that a diplomatic 
solution would be preferable for all sides. Yet for months the Trump 
administration had offered inconsistent messages about what conditions would be 
needed for a tete-a-tete --- such as whether North Korea would have to agree 
that its nuclear program was on the table before the United States would be 
willing to sit down.

   Pence's office, acknowledging the scrapped meeting on Tuesday, said North 
Korea had "dangled a meeting" in hopes that doing so would entice the vice 
president to ease up on the North. Pence's office suggested that North Korea 
later bailed because it became clear he would hold firm on the U.S. stance if a 
meeting did occur.

   Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers, said that the planned meeting --- first 
reported by The Washington Post --- would have included an "uncompromising 
message" delivered by Pence about the "maximum pressure campaign" the Trump 
administration is waging to try to deter North Korea from proceeding with its 
nuclear program.

   "Perhaps that's why they walked away from a meeting, or perhaps they were 
never sincere about sitting down," Ayers said.

   Pyongyang sent its nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam, the highest-level 
visitor to the South from the North in recent memory. It also sent Kim Jong 
Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong. Ostensibly, Pence would have met with one or both of 
those significant North Korean figures.

   Pence's guest for the Olympic Opening Ceremonies was Fred Warmbier, the 
father of Otto Warmbier, the U.S. student who died in 2017 shortly after he was 
released from North Korean detention. Pence also announced in the run-up to his 
visit that the Trump administration was preparing to unveil a particularly 
tough round of sanctions punishing the North for its nuclear weapons program.

   Pence's trip came after President Donald Trump days earlier hosted a group 
of North Korean defectors in the Oval Office, including Ji Seong-ho, whom the 
president had referenced in his State of the Union address. The White House 
cast that meeting as part of the Trump administration's "maximum pressure" 
campaign to counter the North Korean nuclear program. The plan centers around 
rallying the international community to further isolate North Korea both 
diplomatically and economically.


(KA)

 
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