US claims North Korea canceled secret meeting at Winter Olympics with Mike Pence | News | DW | 21.02.2018
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US claims North Korea canceled secret meeting at Winter Olympics with Mike Pence

At the last minute, North Korean officials withdrew from a secret meeting with the US vice president. Mike Pence's chief of staff said the US would not allow Pyongyang to "whitewash their murderous regime."

North Korean officials canceled a secret meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence during the 2018 Winter Olympics, US officials said on Tuesday.

"North Korea dangled a meeting in hopes of the vice president softening his message, which would have ceded the world stage for their propaganda," said Nick Ayers, Pence's chief of staff.

Read more: Majority of South Koreans favor North Korea 'friendship'

"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."

Pence led the US delegation to the Olympic Games. He traveled with the father of the late Otto Warmbier, who died shortly after being released from North Korean custody in a coma, to "remind the world of the atrocities happening in North Korea."

Ayers said Pence also "met with defectors who escaped tyranny" and "pointed out (North Korea's) atrocious record on human rights."

Mike Pence, Karen Pence, Shinzo Abe and Kim Yong Nam attend the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics

Although they say in the same box, Mike Pence (second from bottom right) did not interact with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong (third from top right)

Under pressure

Despite heightened tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's sister Kim Yo Jong and head of state Kim Yong Nam attended the opening ceremony.

Via his sister, Kim invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to officially visit North Korea. However, analysts believe Pyongyang's diplomatic blitz was aimed at shoring up support for easing sanctions against the country.

Read more: Why Donald Trump's tweets puzzle North Korea

The region has been on high alert since November, when North Korea launched its most advanced ballistic missile allegedly capable of reaching the mainland US.

Despite thawing relations on the Korean Peninsula, 20 countries last month agreed to consider new sanctions during a joint US-Canada summit. The summit was a response to the November launch.

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ls/aw (AFP, Reuters)

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