Seoul may delay North Korea office plans

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This undated picture released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on August 19, 2018 via KNS shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) inspecting construction sites in Samjiyon County, Ryanggang Province. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / KCNA VIA KNS / – South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT . /

South Korea said Monday it may delay the imminent opening of a liaison office in North Korea, after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang was abruptly cancelled by Donald Trump.

Trump on Friday pulled the plug on the visit, blaming a lack of progress in denuclearisation efforts since his historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June.

The sudden cancellation has put the brakes on Seoul’s plans to open a liaison office in North Korea following a rapid diplomatic thaw on the Korean peninsula.

“I can’t say it won’t have any impact,” Kim Eui-kyeom, the South’s presidential spokesman, told reporters.

“We were considering the opening of the liaison office as part of a smooth series of events including Pompeo’s visit to the North and the inter-Korean summit, but there is a need to review it since a new situation has arisen,” he added.

Blue House officials told AFP he was referring to the timing of the opening rather than the project as a whole.

The setting up of the inter-Korean liaison office was agreed between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the North’s Kim at their summit in April.

Moon favours engagement with the North and has pressed for a resumption of cross-border cooperation, potentially risking differences with Washington.

The South Korean leader is due to visit Pyongyang next month for what will be his third meeting with Kim this year.

But the office, to be located in the North’s border city of Kaesong, has raised concerns that the transfer of material there could violate UN sanctions against North Korea.

Seoul’s unification ministry on Monday brushed off the accusations, saying that all goods were being transferred to build and operate the office and “not for the economic benefit of North Korea”.

During their summit in Singapore in June, Trump and Kim signed up to a vague commitment to denuclearisation, which the US leader touted as a historic breakthrough.

But Pyongyang has since criticised Washington for its “gangster-like” demands for complete, verifiable and irreversible disarmament and the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency recently reported there were no indications that North Korea has stopped nuclear activities.

After the cancellation of Pompeo’s trip, the Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the mouthpiece of the North’s ruling party, accused Washington of “double-dealing attitudes”.

“The US is hatching a criminal plot to unleash a war against the DPRK” (North Korea) if it fails in its efforts to secure the North’s “unjust and brigandish ‘denuclearisation first'”, it said in a weekend commentary that recalled the rhetoric of the past.