PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Vice President Mike Pence departed for a five-day, two country swing through Asia earlier this month having agreed to a secret meeting with North Korean officials while in South Korea at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

But on Feb. 10, less than two hours before Pence and his team were set to meet with Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Nam, the regime’s nominal head of state, the North Koreans pulled out of the scheduled meeting, according to Pence’s office.

The North Korean decision to withdraw from the meeting came after Pence had used his trip to denounce their nuclear ambitions and announce the “toughest and most aggressive” sanctions against the regime yet, while also taking steps to further solidify the U.S. alliance with both Japan and South Korea.

It also came as Kim Jong Un, through his sister, invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang to begin talks “soon” – a development that would likely cause consternation in Washington, where the Trump administration has been leading a campaign to put “maximum pressure” on the Kim regime to give up its nuclear program. Moon said through a spokesman that he would try to make it happen.

Pence’s actions and rhetoric in the lead up to the Olympics contrasted with the image of progress being promoted by the South Koreans, who would also have been eager to involve the United States in direct talks with the North.

The vice president’s office promoted his trip as an effort to combat what it said was North Korea’s plan to use the Winter Games for propaganda purposes and portrayed the cancellation of the meeting as evidence his mission was a success.

“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 Nick Ayers, the vice president’s chief of staff, while also pointing to the specific events Pence held to highlight human rights abuses by Pyongyang. “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. But 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.”

The vice president’s office said the North Koreans expressed their dissatisfaction with Pence’s announcement of new sanctions as well as his meeting with North Korean defectors when canceling the meeting.

The meeting was two weeks in the making, and started when the Central Intelligence Agency first got word that the North Koreans wanted to meet with Pence when he was on the Korean Peninsula, according to a senior White House official. A second official said the initiative for the meeting came from South Korea, who acted as an intermediary between the two sides.

The two sides agreed to meet at South Korea’s Blue House early that Saturday afternoon, the official said. No South Korean officials were scheduled to attend, but the Blue House was to serve as a neutral meeting place, which could also accommodate the security demands of both sides.

The president and vice president were in agreement on the goal of the meeting: Pence would privately meet with the North Koreans not to open any negotiations with Kim’s regime, but to deliver the administration’s tough stance against North Korea face-to-face, two White House officials said.

White House officials said Trump and Pence had viewed the meeting as a continuation of the administration’s maximum pressure campaign against North Korea, as well as in line with the message Pence had delivered, publicly and privately, all trip. The talks between Pence and the North Koreans, had they happened, were not intended to serve as any sort of de-escalation of the administration’s stance against North Korea, a senior White House official said.

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