Vice President Mike Pence had planned to hold a secret meeting with North Korean officials while he was in Pyeongchang for the Winter Olympics, but the North Koreans backed out at the last minute, according to the White House. "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," Nick Ayers, Pence's chief of staff, said a statement Tuesday, per CNN. The Feb. 10 meeting, which would have been the first meeting between high-level Trump administration officials and their counterparts from Pyongyang, would have involved Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong, among others, the Guardian reports.
After arriving in South Korea, Pence said he wouldn't allow propaganda from the most "tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet" to "hijack" the Games. "As we’ve said from Day One about the trip: This administration will stand in the way of Kim’s desire to whitewash their murderous regime with nice photo ops at the Olympics," Ayers said Tuesday. Pence's office says that when they canceled the meeting, the North Koreans complained about new US sanctions and Pence's meetings with North Korean defectors. Sources tell the Washington Post that the Trump administration accepted an invitation from North Korea weeks in advance, but the details weren't finalized until Feb. 5. The sources say Pence had been instructed to repeat the administration's tough stance during the meeting instead of trying to open negotiations.