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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Mike Pompeo's cancelled visit affects North Korea liaison office plans

Liaison office forms part of efforts two improve ties between the two Koreas 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, second from left, is greeted by North Korean Director of the United Front Department Kim Yong Chol, center, and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, second from right in August 2018. AP 
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, second from left, is greeted by North Korean Director of the United Front Department Kim Yong Chol, center, and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, second from right in August 2018. AP 

South Korea said on Monday the abrupt cancellation of United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's trip to North Korea is having an "effect" on a controversial inter-Korean liaison office it planned to open by this month.

US President Donald Trump abruptly cancelled his top diplomat's planned trip to North Korea on Friday, publicly acknowledging for the first time that his effort to get Pyongyang to denuclearise had stalled since his summit with the North's leader.

South Korea's presidential Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said on Monday that the cancelled visit "cannot be said to have zero effect" on the plan for the liaison office.

"We were thinking of the opening of the liaison office as part of a smooth series of schedules including Secretary of State Mr Pompeo's North Korea visit then the inter-Korean summit," Mr Kim said. "Now that a new situation has arisen, there is a need to inspect it again accordingly."

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South Korea has been building a liaison office just over the border in North Korea, as part of efforts championed by the South's President Moon Jae-in to improve ties between the two Koreas.

The office had raised concern among opposition regulators, analysts and local media that the transfer of material for the office could violate UN and US sanctions against North Korea.

South Korea's Unification Ministry spokesman on Monday repeated its stance that all the material for the liaison office are for the office's operation and the convenience of South Korean personnel, and does not give any economic gain to North Korea.

The spokesman added the two Koreas continue to discuss matters such as the timing of the office's opening, after agreeing to open it "soon".

"This issue is not something that our government can decide on its own, but must be discussed with the North," said Mr Kim, the Blue House spokesman. "I understand that there hasn't been official discussion on how the North sees such situational changes, changes in conditions."

North Korea's state-controlled newspaper on Sunday accused the United States of "double-dealing" and "hatching a criminal plot" against Pyongyang, but did not mention Mr Pompeo's cancelled visit.

Since the June summit, the two sides have struggled to narrow differences over the North’s nuclear weapons programme.

Pyongyang has been calling for a declaration of peace as part of security guarantees designed to encourage it to abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, while the Trump administration says a peace deal and other concessions will only come after more progress on denuclearisation.

The inter-Korean summit slated for September remains on track, and President Moon's role as mediator between the US and North Korea appears to have expanded after the cancelled visit, Blue House's Mr Kim said on Sunday.

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