NK withdraws officials from inter-Korean liaison office .Decision comes after US imposes new sanctions on regime By Lee Min-hyung

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MSeen above is the inter-Korean liaison office in Gaeseong, North Korea. / Yonhap

North Korea withdrew its officials from the inter-Korean liaison office, Friday, further clouding the outlook for the resumption of stalled talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, according to the unification ministry.

“On Friday morning, the North Korean officials notified the South of the decision to withdraw from the office, citing instructions from their superiors,” the Ministry of Unification said in a statement.

The two Koreas established the communications office in Gaeseong, North Korea, last September, to boost the rare mood for reconciliation.

Unification Vice Minister Chun Hae-sung told reporters the North has yet to withdraw its equipment from the office. The ministry said the exact reasons for the North’s decision have not been confirmed.

It urged the North to send back its officials as early as possible, saying that staff from the South will continue to stay there.

However, the North did not respond, only saying that it would discuss the details of the decision in the future.

The move comes less than a day after the U.S. imposed new sanctions on the regime. Critics argue Pyongyang made the abrupt decision in an apparent expression of discontent over these.

Washington imposed the sanctions on two Chinese shipping firms, Thursday, for helping the North avoid international economic sanctions, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Relations between Washington and Pyongyang have started to waver in the wake of the failure of the second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last month in Hanoi.

The North has in recent weeks ramped up criticism of the U.S., shifting responsibility for the summit breakdown to Washington.

Despite the provocative rhetoric from Pyongyang, Washington had so far remained cautious and sought to get the North to resume the denuclearization negotiations.

But it has now sent a warning message by imposing the new sanctions.

On Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) also released a list of 95 ships suspected of engaging in illicit trade activities with the North.

“The U.S. and our like-minded partners remain committed to achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea and believe that the full implementation of North Korea-related United Nations Security Council resolutions is crucial to a successful outcome,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The U.S. decision is expected to further intensify political tension against North Korea, as the regime has viewed the enforcement of sanctions as the most threatening gesture from international society.

What was noteworthy is one South Korean vessel, the LUNIS, was also included on the list.

“We are going to conduct a thorough investigation of the vessel to check if it violated any U.N. resolutions,” a foreign ministry official said Friday.

Meanwhile, Trump offered “several alternatives” to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during their nuclear talks in the Vietnamese capital last month for what Trump said would be a “big deal,” U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said Thursday (local time).

The remark came amid growing uncertainty over the denuclearization talks after the breakdown of the second summit. Following the fiasco, Pyongyang is on track to possibly renewing its nuclear weapons and missile testing.

Bolton said Kim declined to accept the proposal from the U.S., and his counteroffer was also “not satisfactory” to Washington.

The big deal proposal from the U.S. included the North’s promise to give up all of its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, according to Bolton. In return, Washington offered to guarantee a “very bright economic future” for the regime, he said.

The U.S. top security official also said Trump clarified to Kim the definition of denuclearization on Washington’s side.

“We gave them a definition,” Bolton said in a local media interview. “The president actually handed over a piece of paper ― two pieces really, one in English, one in Korean, to Kim Jong-un that describes our definition of denuclearization.”

Bolton did not specify what the definition of denuclearization was.

But expectations are Washington likely urged Pyongyang to commit to complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization during the summit, as opposed to the North’s demand for a step-by-step approach.