US calls off informal talks with N. Korea

US President Donald Trump at the annual Governors' Dinner at the White House in Washington, DC, on Feb 26, 2017.
US President Donald Trump at the annual Governors' Dinner at the White House in Washington, DC, on Feb 26, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • Planned informal talks in New York between a North Korean delegation and former US officials early next month have been called off, said two people who were to take part in the talks.

The reversal by US President Donald Trump's administration came as Malaysia announced that VX nerve agent - a chemical on a United Nations list of weapons of mass destruction - was used to kill Mr Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 on Feb 13.

South Korea has accused the North Korean leader of ordering the killing.

Just two days before Mr Kim Jong Nam's death, North Korea launched a new type of nuclear-capable missile, apparently timed to coincide with the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the United States.

At first, the North Korean developments did not appear to deter the US State Department's plan to move ahead with the talks. The schedule called for the two sides to meet early next month, and arrangements were under way for a six-member group led by Ms Choe Son Hui, who runs the US affairs bureau of North Korea's Foreign Ministry, to travel to New York.

The organiser of the talks, the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, led by Mr Donald Zagoria, was told by the State Department last Friday morning that the visas would be granted.

The use of the VX nerve agent was known when Mr Zagoria received the green light over the visas last Friday morning. But the decision was reversed in the afternoon when "someone overruled the State (Department)", said one person who planned to take part in the talks. Both participants spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter.

The State Department also knew about tough comments Mr Trump made about the North Korean leader during an interview with Reuters last Thursday.

"It's very late," he said when asked whether he would meet Mr Kim Jong Un. "We're very angry at what he's done."

On what prompted the reversal, one person said: "I suspect it was a combination of the VX attack and the President's personal pique that caused the reversal."

While the talks were unofficial, they were seen as a test of the willingness of the Trump administration to begin serious negotiations at a later date, or to send a special US envoy to North Korea. NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2017, with the headline 'US calls off informal talks with N. Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe