N. Koreans called off meeting with Mike Pence

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WASHINGTON/SEOUL: US Vice-President Mike Pence was scheduled to meet with North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong Un's sister while in South Korea for the Winter Olympics but the North Koreans cancelled at the last minute, 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 during the Olympics," Mr Pence's chief of staff Nick Ayers said in a statement.

But after Mr Pence condemned North Korean human rights abuses and announced plans for new economic sanctions, "they walked away from a meeting or perhaps they were never sincere about sitting down".

Mr Pence was going to meet Mr Kim's younger sister Kim Yo Jong, and the nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam, but the North Koreans called off the Feb 10 meeting two hours before it was set to start, a US official said, confirming an article by the Washington Post.

The encounter would have been the first scheduled between senior officials from the Trump administration and Pyongyang, which are in a stand-off over the North's development of nuclear weapons capable of hitting the US.

"The President made a decision that if they wanted to talk, we would deliver our uncompromising message. If they asked for a meeting, we would meet.

"He also made clear that until they agreed to complete denuclearisation, we weren't going to change any of our positions or negotiate," Mr Ayers said.

"This administration will stand in the way of Mr 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,"he said in the statement.

Mr Pence had criticised Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions and announced the "toughest and most aggressive" sanctions against Pyongyang yet, while also moving to strengthen the US alliance with Japan and South Korea. - REUTERS