Vice President Mike Pence was set to hold a secret meeting with top North Korean officials who were in South Korea for the Olympics, only to see the North Koreans abruptly back out of what have been landmark talks between the two adversaries.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Mr Pence "was ready to take this opportunity" and would have used the meeting to emphasise USA concerns about the North's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Moon later described the visit by the North as a success and expressed optimism it would lead to better relations between the two Koreas and eventually talks between the USA and North Korea.
News of a potential meeting was first reported by the Washington Post.
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The North canceled the meeting just two hours before Pence was scheduled to meet with Kim Jong-un's sister, Kim Yo Jong, and another North Korean state official, Kim Yong Nam, on February 10 after Pence announced new sanctions against the North Korean regime during his trip and rebuked it for its nuclear program, according to the Washington Post, which was the first to report on the secret meeting. 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. If they asked for a meeting, we would meet.
North Korea has not carried out any weapons tests since it shot off its biggest intercontinental ballistic missile last November. 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.
The interview was published before news of the aborted meeting leaked out, but Pence's comments take on new importance now that we know he made them a short time after he was literally set to talk to North Korea.
The vice president's office also spun the cancelled meeting as a win for the administration.
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"North Korea would have strongly preferred the Vice President not use the world stage to call attention to those absolute facts or to display our strong alliance with those committed to the maximum pressure campaign", said Nick Ayers, the vice president's chief of staff, in a statement provided to USA TODAY. "Perhaps that's why they walked away from a meeting or perhaps they were never honest about sitting down". He sent his sister to lead the group.
Pence brought with him Fred Warmbier, an Ohio-man whose son Otto died in June 2017 days after he was released from a North Korean prison, to tour the Cheonan Memorial and meet with the defectors.
Pence's guest for the Olympic Opening Ceremonies was Fred Warmbier, the father of Otto Warmbier, the USA student who died in 2017 shortly after he was released from North Korean detention. The plan centers around rallying the global community to further isolate North Korea both diplomatically and economically.
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