North Korea cancelled meeting with Mike Pence 'at last minute', US officials say

It's claimed that a meeting between Kim Yo Jong and the US vice president had been in the works earlier this month

North Korea cancelled meeting with Mike Pence 'at last minute', US officials say

Kim Yo Jong, top right, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, sits alongside Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of North Korean Parliament, and behind U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. Picture by: Patrick Semansky/AP/Press Association Images

North Korea cancelled a potential meeting with US Vice President Mike Pence 'at the last minute', US officials have claimed.

The possibility for a meeting is said to have arisen while Mr Pence was attending the opening of the Winter Olympics in South Korea earlier this month.

Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was also in attendance, leading a high-level delegation sent by the regime for the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang.

While Ms Kim met with South Korean president Moon Jae-in, she did not meet with Mr Pence - despite having been seated only metres away from the US vice president during the ceremony.

The Washington Post last night reported that a 'secret meeting' between US and North Korean officials had been planned, but the North Korean officials pulled out less than two hours before the planned meeting on February 10th.

The paper reported that the decision came after Mr Pence denounced North Korea's nuclear ambitions and announced a further series of US sanctions against the secretive country.

'Maximum pressure campaign'

In a series of tweets, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert addressed the report:

Referring to North Korea by its official title the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), she explained: "[Mr] Pence was ready to take this opportunity to drive home the necessity of DPRK abandoning its illicit ballistic missile and nuclear programs. At the last minute, DPRK officials decided not to go forward with the meeting."

She said the US regrets failing to 'seize the opportunity' - but added they will not apologise for "calling attention to human rights abuses, or for mourning a young American's unjust death".

She was referring to Otto Warmbier, the American student who died in the US last year after being detained by North Korea for more than a year. Otto's father Fred was Mr Pence's guest at the opening ceremony.

Ms Nauert added: "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.

"The maximum pressure campaign deepening North Korea’s diplomatic and economic isolation will continue until the DPRK agrees to credible talks on a way forward to a denuclearised Korean peninsula."

Tensions between North Korea and the US have intensified over the last year, with Donald Trump often using speeches and Twitter to threaten Kim Jong Un and his regime.

The Winter Olympics, meanwhile, have seen some tentative steps towards a partial resumption of diplomatic relations between North & South Korea.

Athletes from both countries marched under the same banner during the opening ceremony, while Kim Jong Un - through a letter hand delivered by his sister - invited the South Korean president to a summit in Pyongyang.