Back-channel talks between a North Korean delegation and a team of former US officials were to be held in New York. US experts and a six-member team of North Koreans led by Choe Son-hui, the director of the American affairs bureau of the country’s foreign ministry, were scheduled to meet in early March.
Donald Zagoria, the head of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, an advocacy group that was organizing the talks, emailed participants last Friday morning to say next week’s meeting would proceed as scheduled after receiving assurances that the visas would be granted, the two participants said.
But hours later, Zagoria sent a follow-up email to the group saying the visas were not approved and the talks were off.
The last-minute withdrawal of the approval of the visas came hours after the Malaysian government announced that VX nerve agent was used to assassinate Kim Jong-nam, the estranged brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The extremely toxic chemical is classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations.
In canceling the talks, top Trump administration officials seem to have overruled State Department officials, who supported the talks, one of the people who planned to attend said.
Kim’s death came on the heels of North Korea’s ballistic missile test on February 11, which coincided with Japanese Prime Shinzo Abe’s visit with President Donald Trump. Abe was dining with the President at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, when the launch took place.
Informal “track 2” talks allow policymakers and experts to exchange views outside the more constrained atmosphere of formal negotiations. North Korean and US experts have met in such settings in recent years in Berlin and Malaysia.
The last meeting in the US was in 2012, when a delegation from Pyongyang attended a closed-door conference in New York. The leader of the North Korean delegation, Ri Yong Ho, who at the time was the country’s representative to the “six-party talks”, is now North Korea’s foreign minister.
“It would have signaled a new start and suggest the Trump administration was more open to discussion,” one of the participants said. “In that sense there could have been a little movement.
Additionally, had the informal talks gone forward, North Korea might have tempered its usually bellicose reaction to the annual joint military drills between the US and South Korea set to begin next month, the sources said.