A closed-door multilateral meeting of experts and diplomats where sanctions on North Korea are regularly discussed was recently canceled by the United States at the last minute, multiple diplomatic sources told NK News on Tuesday.
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported in late January, based on a diplomatic source, that a group of experts on sanctions would likely gather in South Korea in the near future.
The meeting of the consultative body, allegedly dubbed “Grim Reaper,” was scheduled to be held in Seoul in February and March to discuss ways to deal with Pyongyang’s nuclear threats and continued provocation.
Participants from eight countries, including the U.S., multiple European countries, South Korea, and other nations planned to attend.
But two of three sources – including two planned participants in the meeting – confirmed to NK News that the Trump administration had unilaterally canceled the event at the very last minute amid its ongoing review of policy on North Korea.
“It is my understanding that the meeting has been postponed and that we hope the Republic of Korea (ROK) will eventually be able to host the meeting,” an official at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, who wished to remain anonymous, told NK News on Wednesday.
The reason for the sudden cancelation of the meeting is unclear, and South Korea was said by sources to have been hit hard by the sudden cancelation.
“I think the U.S. probably was not ready. My guess is that recent developments caused them to reconsider,” Daniel Pinkston, a Professor at Troy University, told NK News on Thursday, referring to recent missile tests and the alleged murder of Kim Jong Nam with the VX nerve agent in Kuala Lumpur last month.
“The U.S. government is very thin now. Many State Department and Pentagon positions are vacant. And the National Security Council is in turmoil after the resignation of Michael Flynn… I can see the White House having a strong preference to postpone.”
South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) declined to confirm whether it was the U.S. which had canceled the meeting, but argued that one country could not cancel the meeting unilaterally.
“As there are many consultative bodies [discussing sanctions], it’s meaningless to discuss whether a [specific] meeting is canceled or postponed,” an official at MOFA working on North Korean issues told NK News on condition of anonymity.
The official said “a series of meetings” to examine ways to increase sanctions and pressure on the North have been held, and therefore the meetings could be “rescheduled and readjusted.”
The South’s MOFA acknowledged the existence of a group known as “Grim Reaper”, where experts from “allied nations” exchanged views on sanctions and other forms of pressure against the North, suggesting that China may not be involved in the group.
“Meeting of experts on sanctions among allies are held on a regular basis,” the official at MOFA said. “But participating countries agree not to reveal details, including the date and place of the meeting, as well as the name and the number of participants.”
The number of countries involved, agendas for discussion, and the rank of the participants vary depending on a situation, they added.
“It’s important to discuss ways to put pressure and sanctions at the [level of a] multilateral consultative group,” Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at Korea National Diplomatic Academy, an affiliate of the South’s MOFA, told NK News on Wednesday. “But the U.S. can demand to put the meeting on hold if they are in the process of reviewing government policy.”
Kim said Trump’s administration is likely to push for a “tougher policy” toward the North, making discussion at the moment “meaningless” until American policy becomes clearer.
In late February, “track 1.5” talks planned between former American officials and a visiting senior North Korean government delegation were also reportedly called off when the U.S. Department of State decided not to issue visas to the delegation.
Featured Image: South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA)
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