North Korean officials canceled a meeting with Pence at the Olympics when they realized that it would be pointless. Pence was intending to give them an ultimatum:
The president and vice president were in agreement on the goal of the private meeting in Seoul: Pence was not to open any negotiations with North Korea but to deliver the Trump administration’s tough stance face-to-face, two White House officials said.
If Trump wanted this message delivered in person, Pence’s posturing and threats of more sanctions guaranteed that it didn’t happen. Threatening more punitive measures in the days leading up to the Olympics was bound to annoy the other side, and so it did. It’s not clear what purpose the meeting would have served if it had gone ahead. Meeting with officials from an adversarial government only to make the same unrealistic demands that they have already rejected numerous times before isn’t just useless in itself, but it also reduces the chances of opening a channel for dialogue that might be valuable later on. It can only make it more difficult to arrange talks if the other side assumes that the exercise will be a waste of of their time.
This fits a pattern of hard-line bluster and diplomatic malpractice that we have seen from the administration before. The administration tried to arrange a similarly pointless meeting with Rouhani at the U.N. General Assembly last fall. The purpose of that meeting? To issue a series of familiar demands that Iran had no intention of accepting. As I said before, this was a weird offer, and Rouhani predictably refused to meet with a representative of the government that had just denounced his in the harshest terms. The Trump administration seems to think that the only reason to meet with representatives of other governments is to dictate terms to them, and unsurprisingly the representatives of these governments have no interest in playing along. That certainly bodes ill for the administration’s Iran and North Korea policies, and it confirms how much scorn they have for diplomacy in general.