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No contact was made between a visiting U.S. delegation and a group of North Korean officials in the South over the past few days, a U.S. embassy official with knowledge of the events told NK News on Monday.
Both Washington and Pyongyang sent delegations to South Korea to attend Sunday’s closing ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
Leading the U.S. delegation was Special Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump, who was accompanied by White House Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Senator Jim Risch, and Allison Hooker, who is director for Korea at the National Security Council (NSC).
The DPRK delegation, in turn, was led by Kim Yong Chol, who is vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and director of the United Front Department of the WPK Central Committee.
His eight-member group also included Choe Kang Il, deputy director general for North American affairs at the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The U.S. delegation left South Korea on Monday, while the North Koreans will return home on Tuesday.
Leaders of the two delegations sat just meters from each other during Sunday’s Closing Ceremony.
“Allison Hooker was here and she left,” a U.S. embassy official who wished to remain anonymous told NK News. “She left this morning with Ivanka and the other officials and I do know that there was no interaction between the U.S. officials and the North Korean officials during their respective visits.”
“I’ve heard confirmed by senior levels of the embassy who were with the delegation that there was no meeting.”
The dispatch of Choe and Hooker prompted some speculation that informal talks may have taken place between Pyongyang and Washington.
So, too, did a statement by South Korea’s Blue House on Sunday evening reporting that the North Korean delegates, during a meeting with President Moon Jae-in, had expressed a “willingness” to engage in dialogue with the U.S.
Huckabee Sanders on Monday morning said the U.S. would need to assess North Korean interest in discussing denuclearization before accepting any dialogue with the DPRK.
“We will see if Pyongyang’s message today, that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization,” she said in a statement.
“In the meantime, the United States and the world must continue to make clear that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are a dead end.”
But the North Korean comments came as U.S. officials have increasingly expressed an interest in talks with the North.
Returning home after a visit to the South earlier in the month, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said Washington was prepared to talk to North Korea without preconditions.
South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) declined to immediately comment when contacted by NK News.
Chad O’Carroll, Dagyum Ji, and Oliver Hotham contributed reporting
Featured image: Ministry of Unification (MOU)