A North Korean delegation canceled a meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence scheduled to take place on February 10, a State Department spokesperson said on Tuesday.
In a statement sent to NK News, Heather Nauert said the Vice President had been ready to take an opportunity to hold talks with a high-level North Korean delegation, but that Pyongyang had pulled out at the last minute.
“During the Vice President’s recent visit to South Korea to demonstrate allied resolve and support American athletes, the possibility arose of a brief meeting with the North Korean delegation leaders,” Nauert said.
“At the last minute, DPRK officials decided not to go forward with the meeting. We regret their failure to seize this opportunity.”
Pence would have used the talks to emphasize the need for North Korea to abandon its ballistic missile and nuclear programs, Nauert added.
North Korean and U.S. delegations visited the South in early February to attend the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
Prior to the visit, the DPRK’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) ruled out any talks with U.S. officials.
“We’ve never begged for dialogue with the U.S. and it will be the same now and forever,” Jo Yong Sam, a senior foreign ministry official, was quoted as having said by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 8.
“We clearly state that we don’t have the willingness to meet the U.S. side during the period of visiting South Korea.”
The high-level DPRK delegation had arrived in the South earlier in the week, and was led by Kim Yong Nam, the President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly.
He was joined by Kim Yo Jong, who serves as first vice director of the Workers’ Party of Korea’s (WPK) Propaganda and Agitation Department (PAD), as well as Chairman of the National Sports Guidance Committee Choe Hwi and Chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC) Ri Son Gwon.
Had the North Koreans accepted the invitation for talks, the meeting would have likely overlapped with talks between the North Koreans and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
The landmark inter-Korean meeting saw Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong extend an invitation to Pyongyang to President Moon Jae-in on behalf of her brother.
South Korea is yet to respond officially to the invitation, and Moon has suggested that certain conditions must be met before any summit can take place.
The U.S. Vice President hinted at a potential for talks with the North Koreans ahead of his visit to the South.
“I have not requested a meeting, but we’ll see what happens,” Vice President Mike Pence said in Alaska earlier that week on a stopover on his way to South Korea and Japan.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday told Fox News that he would also not rule out meeting the North Koreans.
But as an inter-Korean tête-à-tête unfolded later in the week during the PyeongChang Opening Ceremony and throughout the weekend, the Vice President instead sought to highlight North Korea’s human rights record, bringing the father of the late Otto Warmbier to the games and holding talks with defectors.
In her statement on Tuesday evening, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert linked the North Korean cancelation to the U.S. decision to bring “attention to human rights abuses, or for mourning a young American’s unjust death.”
“We will not allow North Korea’s attendance at the Winter Olympics to conceal the true nature of the regime and the need for the world to remain united in the face of its illicit weapons programs,” Nauert said.
“The maximum pressure campaign deepening North Korea’s diplomatic and economic isolation will continue until North Korea agrees to credible talks on a way forward to a denuclearized Korean peninsula.”
U.S. officials have continued to express an interest in dialogue with North Korea. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as recently as Sunday said that the U.S. was prepared to talk with the DPRK when Pyongyang gives the right signals.
“They will tell me,” the Secretary of State told CBS News’s “60 Minutes.” “We receive messages from them.”
South Korea’s Blue House, when contacted for comment by NK News, declined to comment on the canceled meeting.
Featured image: Mike Pence’s office
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