North Korea cancelled meeting with US vice-president during Winter Olympics

US vice president Mike pence was set to meet North Korean officials, before they cancelled the meeting last minute

The US Vice president Mike Pence was set to meet North Korean officials at the Winter Olympics last week, before the North Koreans pulled out at the last minute, the White House claimed.

The face-to-face encounter in South Korea would have been the first between senior officials from the Donald Trump administration and Pyongyang.

“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 Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers.

Pence was in South Korea for the opening of the Winter Olympics.

But after Pence condemned human rights violations in North Korea and announced the toughest economic sanctions yet, the plan collapsed. Ayers added: “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.”

A spokesman said he was scheduled to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's sister, Kim Yo-jong, among others.

North Korea has made no comment on the US reports.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said when the "possibility arose" of a brief meeting with the North Korean delegation, Pence "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 [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] officials decided not to go forward with the meeting. We regret their failure to seize this opportunity," she said in a statement.

During the games, Pence was seated just feet away from Kim Yo-jong but they did not converse. The vice-president explained last week: “I didn’t avoid the dictator’s sister, but I did ignore her. I didn’t believe it was proper for the United States of America to give her any attention in that forum.”

North Korea has not carried out any weapons tests since it shot off its biggest intercontinental ballistic missile last November. Kim Yo-jong invited South Korean president Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang to begin talks soon. This has, despite Trump’s “little rocket man” jibes at Kim’s expense, prompted speculation about dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.