SEOUL – North Korean officials resumed their work on Monday at an inter-Korean liaison office, two days after Pyongyang pulled back its staff, South Korean government said.
North Korea had withdrawn from the liaison office near the border with South Korea on Friday, weeks after the failed summit in Hanoi between the leader of the North and the president of the United States.
In a short statement, the Ministry of Unification in Seoul said some of the North Korean representatives returned to the office and the two sides held discussions to operate the premises normally.
The ministry said North Korea has confirmed that they were going to keep four to five officials at the office but have not designated any one as the official interlocutor.
North Korea withdrawing the entire 15-member staff last week appeared to be pressure tactics on Seoul to help mediate between Pyongyang and Washington following the failure of the Hanoi summit US President Donald Trump and North’s leader Kim Jong-un.
The partial return of the North Korean officials, whose true significance remains difficult to evaluate at the moment, comes after Trump announced the lifting of sanctions against Chinese vessels that supplied oil to North Korea in contravention to sanctions imposed by the United Nations.
Trump made the decision public on Twitter, hours after Pyongyang recalled its officials from the liaison office.
The two Koreas, technically still at war, inaugurated the office in September 2018 as an all-hours channel of communication to facilitate “24 hours a day and 365 days a year” contact amid warming of ties between them.
The agreement to launch the office in the North Korean border city of Kaesong was signed in April last year during the first of the three summits between North Korean leader Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
The diplomatic thaw and exchanges between the two countries reached historical high last year.
But the deadlock in denuclearization-related discussions between the US and North Korea seems to have caused an impasse in inter-Korean ties as well.
The Hanoi summit in late February ended abruptly without an agreement and highlighted the far-reaching differences between the two sides in their approach to the denuclearization process and sanctions relief.
The disagreement between Kim and Trump revolved around the dismantling process of number of assets belonging to the North Korean nuclear arsenal and the volume of international sanctions currently weighing on Pyongyang that the US would have to lift in exchange.