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NKorea Withdraws Office Liaison Staff  03/22 06:22

   North Korea abruptly withdrew its staff from a liaison office with South 
Korea on Friday, a development that is likely to put a damper on ties between 
the countries and further complicate global diplomacy on North Korea's nuclear 

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea abruptly withdrew its staff from a 
liaison office with South Korea on Friday, a development that is likely to put 
a damper on ties between the countries and further complicate global diplomacy 
on North Korea's nuclear program.

   The North Korean action came a week after its vice foreign minister 
threatened to pull out of nuclear negotiations with the United States, citing a 
lack of U.S. steps to match disarmament measures it took last year. Her warning 
followed a U.S.-North Korea summit in February that collapsed due to disputes 
over U.S.-led sanctions on the North.

   North Korea informed South Korean officials of its decision during a meeting 
Friday at the liaison office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, 
Seoul's Unification Ministry said.

   North Korea said it was withdrawing its staff under instructions from 
unspecified "higher-level authorities," according to a Unification Ministry 
statement. It didn't say whether the withdrawal would be temporary or permanent.

   South Korea called the North's decision regrettable and urged the North to 
return its staff to the liaison office soon.

   The withdrawal is a major setback for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, 
who has sought improved relations with North Korea alongside the nuclear 
negotiations between the North and the United States.

   Moon's office said presidential national security adviser Chung Eui-yong 
convened an emergency meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the 
North Korean withdrawal.

   Moon says inter-Korean reconciliation is crucial for achieving progress in 
nuclear negotiations, but the breakdown of last month's summit between U.S. 
President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has created a 
difficult environment to push engagement with the North. North Korean state 
media have recently demanded that South Korea distance itself from the U.S. and 
resume joint economic projects that have been held back by the U.S.-led 
sanctions against the North.

   Analyst Cheong Seong-Chang at South Korea's Sejong Institute said North 
Korea may be trying to pressure South Korea to back its position with the 
United States more strongly. "It's hard to rule out the possibility that the 
North will soon announce a hard-line statement regarding the denuclearization 
negotiations," Cheong said.

   Last Friday, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said her 
country has no intention of compromising or continuing the nuclear talks unless 
the United States takes steps commensurate with those the North has taken, such 
as its moratorium on missile launches and weapons tests, and changes its 
"political calculation." She said Kim would soon decide whether to continue the 
talks and the moratorium.

   U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded that the U.S. expects Kim to 
honor his promise to keep missile launches and nuclear tests on hold.

   The Unification Ministry statement said North Korea said it "will not mind 
the South remaining" in the liaison office and that it would notify the South 
about practical matters later. South Korean Vice Unification Minister Chun 
Hae-sung told reporters that the South plans to continue to staff the liaison 
office normally and expects the North will continue to allow the South Koreans 
to commute to the office.

   The office opened last September as part of a flurry of reconciliation steps 
that also included North Korea's participation in last year's South Korean 
Winter Olympics, the mutual dismantling of front-line guard posts and the 
halting of military exercises along their border.

   The liaison office is the first since the peninsula was split into a 
U.S.-backed capitalistic South and a Soviet-supported socialist North in 1945. 
The Koreas previously used telephone and fax-like communication channels that 
were often shut down in times of high tension.

   Kaesong is also the location of a now-shuttered factory complex that was 
jointly run by the two Koreas. It combined South Korean capital and technology 
with cheap North Korean labor. Both Koreas want the U.S. to allow exemptions 
from the sanctions to permit the reopening of the factory park, which provided 
North Korea with much-needed foreign currency.

   Chun said a number of North Korean officials left the liaison office 
carrying documents, but most of the equipment was left behind.

   While the liaison office was one of the main agreements reached in three 
summits between Moon and Kim last year, Chun said it's too early to say whether 
North Korea is renegading on the deals.

   "We don't think this could be called a violation of an agreement," Chun 
said. "We want to monitor the situation for a bit longer and respond to the 
developments, instead of making predictions or premature judgments."


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