Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Pope Francis sexual abuse commission hit by resignations and criticism, get a reboot

Pope Francis sexual abuse commission hit by resignations and criticism, get a reboot

Last week Pope Francis announced he was reviving a panel he created to advise the Vatican on how to handle sexual abuse by clergy. The issue has dogged the Roman Catholic Church in recent years, and critics have accused Francis and his two predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, of failing to aggressively weed out and punish predator priests.
Pope Francis, Cardinal Sean O’Malley
Here’s a look what drove the panel’s creation and what to expect in the future.

What is Pope Francis’ commission on sexual abuse?

Following criticism he was not focusing on halting child abuse within the church, Francis created the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in March 2014, naming Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, to run it.

O’Malley was not only a member of the pope’s “G9” group of close advisors; he was also the man who sought to clean up the abuse scandal in Boston after the departure of his predecessor, Cardinal Bernard Law, whose shifting of predator priests to new posts was exposed by the Boston Globe and chronicled in the movie “Spotlight.”
The revelations about Law, who died in December, emboldened abuse victims across the country and world, who began speaking up about the priests who had molested them.
When he created the commission, Francis said: “The commission’s specific task is to propose to me the most opportune initiatives for protecting minors and vulnerable adults, in order that we may do everything possible to ensure that crimes such as those which have occurred are no longer repeated in the Church.”

Why is it being renewed now?

After the commission’s three-year mandate expired in December, Francis relaunched it on Feb. 17 with some members reappointed and nine new members added, some of whom are victims of abuse, although the Vatican declined to say which, opting to respect their privacy. O’Malley returns as chief.
New members come from Australia, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, the Netherlands and Tonga, "reflecting the global reach of the church and the challenge of creating safeguarding structures in diverse cultural context,” the Vatican said.

What did the first commission achieve?

The Vatican has said it “worked with almost 200 dioceses and religious communities worldwide to raise awareness and to educate people on the need for safeguarding in our homes, parishes, schools, hospitals, and other institutions.”

What didn’t it do?

Commission members quickly realized they needed to go beyond raising awareness and deal with the bishops who quietly shift offenders to new dioceses when they are exposed as molesters and rapists.
Even if church laws already existed to hold bishops accountable for their priests’ behavior, those strictures were not enough, O’Malley said in 2014. “There are, theoretically I guess, canons that could apply here, but obviously they have not been sufficient,” he said.

The commission was behind Francis’ decision in 2015 to create a new tribunal to judge bishops caught covering up for abusive priests, and to fund it for five years. But amid myriad legal questions over what exact powers the court would have, it never got off the ground. In 2016, Francis officially killed the plan to create it, issuing a document that essentially called on using existing procedures to tackle the problem.
Francis was also criticized when Australian Cardinal George Pell, whom he had brought to Rome to clean up Vatican finances, was forced to return to Australia last year to face charges of sexual assault.

Any other problems?

Commission members said bishops should call the police when they discovered predator priests, rather than phone the nearest religious retreat to “park” the priest out of harm’s way. But this simple message was hard to get across.
It emerged that during a Vatican training course for new bishops in September 2015 a French priest informed bishops they had no obligation to report abuse to the police, forcing the commission to issue a strong statement saying bishops had every obligation to do so.
Did commission members persevere?
Not all of them. British member Peter Saunders, a former victim of priestly abuse, was ousted in 2016. He said the group was a toothless, paper-shuffling exercise.
Irish member Marie Collins, another victim, resigned in March last year and said Vatican bureaucrats had refused to comply with the commission’s request — approved by the pope — to respond to all letters sent to the Vatican by abuse victims

Was the pope listening to the commission?

Possibly not. In 2015, Collins handed O’Malley a letter addressed to the pope from Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean abused as a boy by Chilean prelate Fernando Karadima, who was sentenced by the Vatican to a lifetime of penance in 2010.
Cruz described how the abuse was witnessed and covered up by Juan Barros, a priest whose appointment as a bishop in 2015 prompted huge protests in Chile.

The pope has stuck by Barros, dismissing the protesters as “lefties” and hugging Barros publicly during his visit to Chile last month. "I can't condemn [Barros] because I don't have evidence," he said on the plane back to Rome, suggesting he had ignored or never read the letter from Cruz. That was too much for O’Malley, who said Francis had caused "great pain” to victims.

If Francis was not listening to the commission about Barros, whom was he listening to?

Vatican watchers believe the pope was influenced by Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, a member of the G9 group who has backed Barros and reportedly helped block moves to make Cruz a member of the abuse commission.

So is the pope intransigent on Barros?

No. Something changed his mind after his Chilean trip, possibly the scale of the protest against Barros in the country. On Feb. 17, he sent a senior Vatican sex abuse investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, to New York to interview Cruz, who now lives in Philadelphia.
"For the first time I felt that someone is listening," Cruz said after the meeting.
What happens next?
“This should lead to Barros stepping down,” said Saunders, who is forming his own campaign group with Cruz and others to fight clerical abuse. The new papal commission will meanwhile hold its first meeting in April.
Israeli police confirmed that Benjamin is a suspect in the fraud investigation

Israeli police confirmed that Benjamin is a suspect in the fraud investigation

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been named as a suspect in two investigations into allegations of “fraud, breach of trust and bribes” with his former chief of staff signing a deal with prosecutors to testify against him.
The moves mark the most serious political crisis for the Israeli leader, the only prime minister to rival founding father David Ben-Gurion for longevity in office.
Shlomo Filber, Benjamin Netanyahu
The suspicions against Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, were first revealed in a court application by detectives on Thursday seeking a gag order on reporting details of negotiations with Ari Harow, the former chief of staff, to become a state witness. Talks were concluded on Friday with Harow signing a deal in which he agreed to testify.
According to a statement from the Israel Police, Harow is expected to receive six months of community service and a fine of $193,000 on separate breach of trust charges – rather than a prison sentence – in exchange for his testimony.
The latest dramatic twists in the series of long-running investigations into Netanyahu, his family and close circle, have led some commentators in the Israeli media to suggest that an indictment may now be inevitable.
Amid mounting calls from politicians for Netanyahu to stand down if he is charged in any of the investigations, commentators even in media usually friendly to the Israeli prime minister – including the rightwing Jerusalem Post – have begun beginning to talk about ‘alternatives’ to him.

The confirmation of the seriousness of the allegations comes on the day after his wife, Sara, was again interviewed by police in a separate case relating to claims for household costs in the prime minister’s residence.
The saga – which at times has played out like a soap opera – has gripped Israelis as it touched on many of the criticisms of Netanyahu during his long political career, including his sense of persecution, his insatiable wheeler-dealing to stay in power, his taste for luxury and sense of entitlement.
For his part, Netanyahu and his office have dismissed the accusations against him as a politically motivated witch-hunt designed to push him out of office.
It has also lifted the lid on the cosy and often nepotistic relationship between Israel’s business and political elite in a country where many Israelis struggle with a high cost of living and modest salaries.
While the scope of the investigations in the so-called cases 1000 and 2000 – the first about gifts from wealthy benefactors and the second over attempts to sway media coverage – have long been known, it is the first time Netanyahu has been publicly designated as a suspect.
Netanyahu’s office denied the accusations and said investigators were trying to bring down his government. “We completely reject the unfounded claims made against the prime minister. The campaign to change the government is under way, but it is destined to fail, for a simple reason: there won’t be anything because there was nothing,” a statement said.
The application for the gag order, made to the Rishon Lezion magistrate’s court in central Israel, followed the confirmation by Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, earlier on Thursday that talks were under way with Harow, a close confidant of Netanyahu, to testify in exchange for leniencIt comes as a third high-profile corruption investigation – case 3000 – has focused on allegations of bribery within his inner circle over a deal to buy submarines from Germany.

Harow served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff for two years from 2008, when the politician was in opposition. He returned in 2014 to serve as the prime minister’s chief of staff, but resigned a year later amid allegations of corruption, which he denied.
Harow was accused of having used his ties to Netanyahu to advance his private interests. Police have recommended he be indicted for bribery and breach of trust, but Mandelblit has yet to file formal charges against him.
The gag order also affects case 1000, in which the prime minister and his wife are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors – most notably expensive cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan. Netanyahu is the primary suspect in the case. The couple has denied any wrongdoing.
The investigations have begun to have an impact on Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud party, whose senior figures are sparring publicly over whether their leader can remain in office if he is indicted.
Likud officials have sharply criticised any suggestions Netanyahu may have to step down. “The prime minister does not need to resign, rather he needs to prove his innocence,” said Likud’s coalition chairman, David Bitan.
“There will be no indictment. But let’s say there will be: the charges would still be minor and the prime minister would be able both to function and to prove his innocence.”
Bitan has urged Likud supporters to rally in support of Netanyahu to counter weekly demonstrations against the slow progress of the investigation. Bitan said a rally on Saturday was designed “to protest the invalid and anti-democratic attempt by those on the left who want to topple the government in a an undemocratic fashion”.
Shlomo Filber has made a deal to testify against Benjamin - Isreali media

Shlomo Filber has made a deal to testify against Benjamin - Isreali media

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is battling for his political career in the face of various corruption allegations, has suffered a potentially devastating blow after a former confidant reportedly agreed to turn state witness.
A week after police recommended the country’s second-longest serving prime minister be indicted for bribery, Israeli press reported that Shlomo Filber would testify against his former boss to avoid jail.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Shlomo Filber
Police did not confirm whether Filber, a Netanyahu appointment who headed the Ministry of Communications, would testify, but all major Israeli media reported that a deal had been reached.

Filber was arrested on Tuesday over allegations that he had promoted regulations worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the telecoms company Bezeq in return for a news website run by its principal shareholder providing favourable coverage of Netanyahu and his family.
The shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, is also in custodyalong with his wife and son. Former reporters at the Walla! news outlet have claimed they were put under pressure to avoid negative reports on the 68-year-old prime minister.
Elovitch has denied the allegations. Filber’s legal team has not commented.
Police also announced that they had arrested Nir Hefetz, a former Netanyahu spokesman, this week, alleging that had he tried to bribe a judge to drop a fraud case against Netanyahu’s wife.
The prime minister has not yet been named as a suspect in the case, but he is expected to be questioned. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and claims a media-led witch-hunt has sought to remove him from office. Appearing in a video released late on Tuesday, he said the accusations were “total madness”.
Government critics hope Filber’s testimony will open a fissure in Netanyahu’s inner circle that may force him to step down early, despite promising to remain in office until elections in 2019.
Aluf Benn, the editor-in-chief of the leftwing newspaper Haaretz, wrote a piece headlined The Final Days of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Rule. Others have speculated about snap elections, possibly as a last-ditch attempt to stall legal proceedings.
Avi Gabbay, the head of the opposition Labor party, said on Tuesday night: “The events of the last two days and recent hours make very clear: the Netanyahu age is over. We must prepare for an election soon.

“The criminal house of cards the prime minister built in recent years – corrupting the civil service, harming the rule of law, threatening freedom of the press and more than all else, dividing Israeli society – is crashing down on him and around him.”
Despite months of mudslinging, Netanyahu’s delicately balanced governing coalition has held together, but his once-sturdy political foothold appeared shaken last week when police declared they were recommending that the country’s attorney general indict him for “bribery, fraud and breach of trust” in two separate cases.
Case 1000, also known as the “gifts affair”, involves claims that he and his family received about £200,000 worth of gifts from international billionaires, including expensive cigars, pink champagne and jewellery for his wife. Alleged wealthy benefactors include the Hollywood producer and media magnate Arnon Milchan and the Australian businessman James Packer.
In return, police said, Netanyahu had helped Milchan, a producer who worked on Pretty Woman and Fight Club, with US visa matters and Israeli tax breaks.

Case 2000 relates to secret talks with the publisher of a leading Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, in which Netanyahu allegedly requested positive coverage in exchange for damaging a competitor, the pro-Netanyahu freesheet Israel Hayom.
The Yedioth Ahronoth columnist Nahum Barnea wrote that Netanyahu’s days in office were numbered. While he still had a legal defence, Netanyahu’s “problem is the accumulation. When so many dark clouds accumulate in the sky, the chances of rain increase,” he wrote.
“The common thread that ties together all of the investigations is the excessively long amount of time that Netanyahu has been wallowing in the swamp of governing … the less cautious he became and the greater his sense of entitlement grew. His desire to eradicate rivals by any means, his disdain for the gatekeepers, his cynicism and his self-pity superseded his good judgment and he went too far.”
Having governed for nearly 12 years over four terms, Netanyahu will now wait, possibly months, for the attorney general to make a final decision on whether to press charges.
Shortly after police released their recommendation to indict last week, a poll by Israel’s Channel 2 suggested Netanyahu could survive an election despite the corruption claims. The survey found that if an election were held, his Likud party could gain a seat. It also found that 48% of respondents believed he should quit in the wake of the allegations, and 40% said he should stay on.
White house considers citing Russian deaths in Syria as a Sign of U.S resolve

White house considers citing Russian deaths in Syria as a Sign of U.S resolve

The Trump administration is considering citing the deaths of scores of Russian mercenaries in a Feb. 7 battle with U.S.-backed forces in Syria as evidence of the president’s tough stance toward the Kremlin, a person familiar with the matter said.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made an oblique reference to “an incident” on Tuesday, as she argued that President Donald Trump has been tougher on Russia than his predecessor Barack Obama. She was alluding to the Syria battle -- an episode that threatens to deepen tensions with Moscow.
White house usa
“He has done a number of things to put pressure on Russia and to be tough on Russia. Just last week, there was an incident that will be reported in the coming days, and another way that this president was tough on Russia,” Sanders said in a briefing for reporters.
Trump himself would like to publicly make the case that the battle shows his resolve to confront Moscow, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He faces greater pressure to act after the indictment of 13 Russians and a St. Petersburg “troll farm” on Feb. 16 for allegedly leading a coordinated effort to influence the 2016 election. In a weekend tweet storm, Trump claimed the indictment exonerated him, but never criticized Russia.

The U.S. has not previously publicly acknowledged that Russians were among the fighters killed in the Feb. 7 battle. Sanders’ characterization of the event as evidence that the president has been “tougher on Russian in the first year than Obama was in eight years combined” could antagonize the Kremlin. Sanders declined further comment on Wednesday.
It’s unclear when the White House learned of the attack or the composition of the Russian forces. And if Trump wanted to show his resolve to confront Russia, there are easier ways: he could enact sanctions Congress has already approved in retaliation for the election meddling or publicly criticize the Russian campaign.

Syria Attack

In the Syria battle, a force comprised of Russian mercenaries and allied units fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad attacked a base held by U.S.-backed forces, mainly Kurds, in the oil-rich Deir Ezzor region, according to U.S. and Russian officials familiar with the matter. After 20 to 30 artillery and tank rounds landed near the Kurds and U.S. soldiers acting as advisers, the U.S. coalition responded with artillery and airstrikes, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Feb. 8.
U.S. forces used a deconfliction line with the Russian military to inquire whether the attacking force was theirs. White said that U.S. officials “were in regular communication with Russian counterparts before, during and after the attack.”
The U.S. counterattack turned back the assault and may have killed more than 200 of the mercenaries and injured scores more, according to people familiar with the matter.

Both the Kremlin and the Pentagon have downplayed the incident. Russia’s military said it had nothing to do with the attack and the U.S. accepted the claim. Regardless, it was the deadliest clash between citizens of the two countries since the Cold War.
A U.S. official confirmed Tuesday that Russian casualties were in the low triple digits, and said one fighter among the U.S.-backed forces was injured. The Russian Foreign Ministry has acknowledged five Russian deaths in the incident.

Prigozhin Connection

The Russians were part of Wagner Group, a firm owned by a Kremlin-connected businessman named Yevgeny Prigozhin, according to the people familiar with the incident.
Prigozhin, known as “Vladimir Putin’s chef," was among the 13 Russians named in the 37-page criminal indictment Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed Feb. 16.
The Russian assault on the base in Syria may have been a rogue operation, underscoring the complexity of a conflict that started as a domestic crackdown on dissidents by Assad only to morph into a proxy war involving Islamic extremists, stateless Kurds and regional powers Iran, Turkey and now Israel. 
The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, warned the Trump administration on Feb. 19 not to “play with fire” in Syria by supporting the autonomy-seeking Kurds, who have helped the U.S. largely eradicate the Islamic State militant group’s presence in the country.
Oxfam Chief Mark Goldring Facing MPs' Grilling Is Also Under Internal Investigation

Oxfam Chief Mark Goldring Facing MPs' Grilling Is Also Under Internal Investigation

Oxfam’s chief executive is under internal investigation over the handling of a sex abuse claim, as he faces a grilling from MPs over the aid worker sex scandal which has engulfed the charity..
Mark Goldring appears before the Commons International Development Committee on Tuesday amid continuing anger over allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by Oxfam staff responding to the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Mark Goldring
His appearance, alongside the chair of trustees, Caroline Thomson, and Winnie Byanyima, the executive director of Oxfam International, comes after the charity issued a formal apology to the government of the impoverished Caribbean state, reports the Press Association. 
It has now emerged the boss is part of a probe at the charity, following a complaint made last month over how senior management had responded to requests to re-open a 2010 case involving allegations of sexual abuse.
Gavin Stewart, Oxfam vice-chair of trustees, said: “Oxfam takes all complaints seriously and so this is being examined by a team that is independent of management and has no previous involvement in this case. I expect the team to report their findings to me on schedule, later this month.
“The complaint related to events in late 2017 and was made by an individual who was not involved in 2010.”

The original case will be considered as part of the independent commission announced by Oxfam last week, when executive director Winnie Byanyima promised to root out any wrongdoing at the charity and provide justice for anyone abused by its staff.
Winnie Byanyima
Oxfam has also released the report of an internal inquiry which called for other charities to be warned of “problem staff”, only for a number of those involved to take up other posts in the aid sector.
Prime Minister Theresa May described the disclosures in the report as “absolutely horrific” and warned standards had fallen “far below” those expect of the charities and the NGOs that work with the Government.
The 10-page report was finally released by Oxfam after a leaked copy was published by The Times, prompting a storm of criticism over the way the episode was handled.
It detailed four dismissals and three resignations by staff over allegations ranging from the use of prostitutes on charity property to sexual exploitation of employees.

Suspicions that under-age sex workers had been exploited “cannot be ruled out”, according to the document.
It alleges the director of operations in the country, Roland Van Hauwermeiren, admitted using sex workers in his charity-funded accommodation and was granted a “phased and dignified exit”.
Last week he denied ever using prostitutes in Haiti.
Several men at the centre of the allegations subsequently took up roles in aid organisations, including at Oxfam.
Van Hauwermeiren became a senior figure at Action Against Hunger in Bangladesh, with the charity since claiming Oxfam made no mention of his alleged conduct in 2011.
Similarly, one former staff member was employed by Oxfam as a consultant in Ethiopia just months after being sacked, a move the charity said last week was a “serious error”.
The committee will also take evidence from Save The Children about proposals it has put forward on safeguarding and from the permanent secretary at the Department for International Development, Matthew Rycroft about what the department knew and what steps it is taking now.
Disabled People 'Forced To Spend £570 Extra A Month'

Disabled People 'Forced To Spend £570 Extra A Month'

Disabled people suffer a “disability price tag” the forces them to spend an average of £570 extra monthly, a charity has warned.
Scope found that disabled people have “much less” to live on and are having to fork out the extra money on wheelchairs, specially adapted equipment and electricity to power it.
Scope said disabled people spend almost half of their income after housing costs on expenses relating to their disability.
Examples of the extra costs include: 
  • A reclining chair that costs £1,200
  • £600 for a spare battery for an electric wheelchair
  • Hand grips for wheelchairs and walkers that cost five times (£25) a grip for a bike (£5).
  • Knives with an angled blade that cost £15 each
  • Nearly £4,000 for accessible parking bays
The report, published on Tuesday, says: “This leaves disabled people with much less money to live on.”
One woman, Marie, told Scope her Disability Living Allowance did not cover the extras she had to pay.
“I really need a new wheelchair but it’s gonna cost £9,500. We really can’t afford to cover that cost,” he said.

″I feel guilty as well as a parent, if I can’t do something with Mark, if my wheelchair’s broken for instance.” 
“Life costs more if you are disabled,” said Scope chief executive Mark Atkinson.
“Disabled people often have to buy equipment that other people don’t.
“Sometimes their condition means disabled people have no choice but to use more of something, like heating. In other cases, they are charged extortionate rates for things like insurance.
“We’ve heard shocking stories – £15 for a knife, £600 for a wheelchair battery, and £1,200 for a reclining chair – from disabled people all over the country about how much more they are paying.
“Scope research shows that on average all these costs add up to a ‘disability price tag’ of an extra £570 per month.
“We need a complete rethink on how we tackle this issue and how Government, businesses, markets and the public work and interact with disabled people.”
Sarah Newton, Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, said: “Scope rightly highlights that people often face additional costs as a result of their disability, which is why we’re spending more than ever before to support disabled people and those with health conditions.
“We introduced personal independence payments to replace the old system, and now 29% of people receive the highest rate of support, compared with 15% under disability living allowance.
“This government is committed to supporting struggling households and is working closely with a wide range of industries including retail, transport and financial services, to help encourage businesses to focus on the needs of disabled customers to ensure they don’t miss out.”
Kirsty Sharman pled guilty to a public order offence over an abusive note on ambulance

Kirsty Sharman pled guilty to a public order offence over an abusive note on ambulance

A woman arrested for verbally abusingparamedics before leaving a foul-mouthed note on an ambulance has pleaded guilty at North Staffordshire Justice Centre to a public order offence.
Kirsty Sharman, 26, placed the hand-written message on an emergency vehicle outside her home in Stoke-on-Trent on Sunday, demanding paramedics move on. 
Kirsty Sharman
Staffordshire Police’s Chief Inspector John Owen announced Sharman’s arrest for public order offences on Monday, saying “emergency services must be able to carry out their roles without fear of abuse/intimidation of any kind”.
The note read: “If this van is for anyone but Number 14 then you have no right to be parked here.
“I couldn’t give a shit if the whole street collasped (sic). Now move your van from outside my house.”
Sharman is also said to have yelled abuse at paramedics, who were responding to a patient in cardiac arrest.
She has now been ordered to pay a £120 fine, a £30 victim surcharge, and £135 court costs.
I couldn’t give a shit if the whole street collasped (sic)Foul-mouthed note left on ambulance
Local paramedic mentor Katie Tudor posted a picture of the note on Twitter, copying in the police.

She wrote: “So upset to be sent this by one of our crews this morning. Along with this note left on their ambulance they received a load of verbal abuse.”
The ambulance had been parked in a residential street in Tunstall and was responding to a call at the time.
Reacting to the news of Sharman’s arrest, Tudor thanked the force and Chief Inspector John Owen, who is the local policing commander for the Stoke North area.
Social media users had reacted with disbelief and anger at the note, with one official ambulance service Twitter account commenting “#sadtimes”.
The Sun newspaper reported on Monday how Sharman was said to be unemployed and, despite raging about parking, doesn’t own a vehicle.
Appearing in the court dock at Newcastle-under-Lyme, Sharman, speaking through a solicitor, offered her “most sincere apologies to the ambulance staff”, the Stoke Sentinel reported.
Magistrate Chris Rushton said: “This was an absolutely despicable incident.” 
He ordered Sharman to pay a £120 fine and a victim surcharge of £30 and costs of £135. She has now been released.
Peace was set to meet with North Korean officials during Olympics before last minute cancellation

Peace was set to meet with North Korean officials during Olympics before last minute cancellation

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 Olympics.
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 with Kim Yong Nam, the regime's nominal head of state, the North Koreans pulled out of the scheduled meeting, according to Pence's office.
US Vice president Mike Pence, Kim Yo Jong, kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Nam
The North Koreans' 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 that 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 — which Pence had coyly teased en route to Asia, saying, "We'll see what happens" — 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, which acted as an intermediary between the two sides to set up the meeting.
South Korean officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Though Pence had agreed to the North Korean invitation before he departed for Asia on Feb. 5, no details were set until the vice president arrived in Seoul on Feb. 8, according to the White House official.
The two sides agreed to meet at South Korea's Blue House on Feb. 10, 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.
Pence, a representative from the National Security Council, a representative from the intelligence community and Ayers were planning to attend from the U.S. side. The North Korean side was expected to include Kim Yo Jong and Kim Yong Nam, as well as a possible third official.
Within the White House, discussions of the possible meeting were kept to a small group of senior administration officials and the plan was finalized the week before the vice president left during an Oval Office meeting with President Trump, Pence, national security advisor H.R. McMaster, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Ayers. CIA Director Mike Pompeo called in by phone, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were also part of the ongoing discussions.


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.
The administration also took it as a sign of the North Korean's seriousness that Kim sent his younger sister to South Korea, making her the first member of the Kim family to visit the South since the Korean War.
"The president's view was that they need to understand that what our policy is publicly and what we are saying publicly is actually what we mean," a senior White House official said, explaining Trump's decision to greenlight the possibility of a Pence meeting with the North Koreans.
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, for the whole 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.
Since becoming president, Trump has taunted Kim Jong Un with grade-school boasts about who has a more powerful nuclear button, dubbed him "Rocket Man" and promised that North Korea's provocations would be met with "fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before."
Pence used his trip to the region to further underscore the administration's combative stance.
At the Olympic opening ceremony, Pence sat in South Korean President Moon Jae-in's VIP box along with Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — with Kim Yo Jong and Kim Yong Nam sitting almost directly behind him. Pence studiously ignored the North Koreans all evening and photos of the uncomfortable tableau prompted public headlines and private speculation about who, exactly, had won the propaganda war.
On Feb. 9, before heading to the Olympics, Pence visited the Cheonan Memorial, a tribute to 46 South Korean sailors who were killed in 2010 by a North Korean torpedo, and he met with four North Korean defectors, urging them to share their stories before the assembled media. He also invited Fred Warmbier — father of Otto Warmbier, the American student who died last year after North Korea detained him for 17 months for stealing a propaganda poster, then sent him home in a coma — to attend the opening ceremony as his guest.
It was all part of Pence's effort to cast himself as a warrior against North Korea's propaganda.
Pence seemed to make a point of ignoring the North Koreans at the opening ceremony, both at a VIP reception and in Moon's VIP box. The vice president also only stood to cheer for the U.S. athletes when they marched out, staying seated when the North and South entered the Olympic Stadium together under a united Korean flag.

The North's state-run Korean Central News Agency unleashed a torrent of vitriol against the vice president on Feb. 10. "Pence must know that his frantic acts of abusing the sacred Olympics for confrontational ruckus are as foolish and stupid an act as sweeping the sea with a broom," the agency said in a report.
"If Pence wants to avoid experiencing a hot agony of shame on the stage of the Olympics, he had better stop behaving imprudently and clearly learn about how ardently the compatriots of the north and the south of Korea wish to reunify the country … and quietly disappear," the report continued.
Pence's stony demeanor and ramrod straight posture at the opening ceremony earned snarky reviews in the Korean media, with some grousing that he had snubbed the North Koreans and even disrespected the Olympic Games.
The vice president's team saw it differently.
Communications Director Jarrod Agen tweeted a laudatory review of Pence's evening: "VP stands and cheers for U.S. athletes. VP hangs out with U.S. athletes instead of dining with Kim regime. VP does not applaud N. Korea or exchange pleasantries w/ the most oppressive regime on earth."
Another member of Pence's staff explained the vice president's public behavior with: "I don't think you talk geopolitics over speed skating."
In fact, at that very moment, Pence was still planning to talk geopolitics with the North Koreans the next day, reiterating his week-long public message in private with Kim Yo Jong and Kim Yong Nam.
On the morning of Feb. 10, the North Koreans sent word to Pence's team that the meeting was still on — but they didn't like his rhetoric, a senior administration said.
Then, just hours later, the North Koreans changed their minds, abruptly backing out of their offering of a meeting.
Pence then watched speed skating with his wife before boarding Air Force Two to return home.