U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was to have met with Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, during the Winter Olympics in South Korea, but the North's delegation pulled out "at the last minute," the State Department said Tuesday.
"The possibility arose of a brief meeting with the North Korean delegation leaders...At the last minute, DPRK officials decided not to go forward with the meeting," department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, using the acronym of North Korea's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"We regret their failure to seize this opportunity," Nauert said in a statement.
Pence and Kim Yo Jong were both present at the Feb. 9 opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Earlier Tuesday, the Washington Post reported the two sides had agreed to a "secret meeting" on Feb. 10 at the Blue House in Seoul, but the North Koreans pulled out of the scheduled meeting "less than two hours before."
Pence was scheduled to meet with Kim Yo Jong and Kim Yong Nam, North Korea's ceremonial leader, in what would have been a first meeting between top officials from U.S. President Donald Trump's administration and North Korea, the paper said in its online edition.
Tensions have been running high between the two countries, which have no diplomatic ties, as North Korea aggressively pursues development of a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the mainland United States.
Pence's chief of staff Nick Ayers said Tuesday that North Korea had "dangled" a meeting with the U.S. vice president in hopes that doing so would help soften his tough stance on the country.
But after Pence condemned North Korea's human rights abuses and announced a plan for new U.S. sanctions over the North's nuclear and missile programs, "they walked away from a meeting, or perhaps they were never sincere about sitting down," Ayers said in a statement.
Nauert said that while Pence was ready to meet with the North Koreans, he would have used the opportunity to "drive home the necessity of North Korea abandoning its illicit ballistic missile and nuclear programs."
"The maximum pressure campaign deepening North Korea's diplomatic and economic isolation will continue until North Korea agrees to credible talks on a way forward to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula," she said.
Ayers said Trump has made a decision that if Pyongyang wanted to talk, Washington would deliver its "uncompromising message."
"Until they agreed to complete denuclearization we weren't going to change any of our positions or negotiate," Ayers said.