Top US negotiator to North Korea in surprise resignation

Japan responds guardedly

Joseph Yun, the US special representative for North Korea, is set to step down, the State Department said on Monday, in a move that comes as Kim Jong Un's regime says it's willing to hold talks with Washington.

South Korean-born Joseph Yun, a strong advocate for engagement with Pyongyang, has led the USA outreach to North Korea, quietly pursuing direct diplomacy, since taking his post under former President Barack Obama in 2016.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, met in Geneva earlier in the day (local time) on the sidelines of the U.N. Human Rights Council meeting, according to the ministry.

Yun, a 32-year foreign service veteran, told US media his retirement was a personal decision and that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had tried to persuade him to stay.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Yun made a decision to leave for personal reasons and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had no choice but to accept his resignation.

It was not clear why Yun had chose to retire so suddenly.

He has warned that if the latest sanctions do not work, "we'll have to go to phase two. We need a whole of government approach".

The White House nominated Susan Thornton in December as assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, the State Department's top post for the region, but she has yet to be confirmed by Congress. Thornton now serves as acting assistant secretary. On Monday, Trump responded to the North's reported overture by saying talks will happen only "under the right conditions". US Persons are also required to block any property or interests in property of the designated persons that comes into their possession or control.

Many analysts say North Korea will never agree to talks if it has to promise to give up nuclear weapons.

North Korea, however, said in a statement Sunday that it considers "any type of blockade an act of war against us". A North Korean diplomat told Reuters that the delegation has asked to reply to Kang's remarks, but under United Nations rules will only be allowed to do so when the council's high-level session ends on Wednesday and its general session begins.

"He's such a dreamer", a White House official said at the time, with a note of sarcasm.

Beyond the proliferation risk, those arguing for military action believe a nuclear North Korea would be emboldened to use conventional military forces and other pressure against US allies South Korea, Japan and others in the region to accomplish strategic goals including steps toward the eventual reunification of the Korean Peninsula on North Korean terms.

Most were deeply skeptical about his chances.

Yun visited Pyongyang in June to secure the release of USA college student Otto Warmbier, who had been imprisoned for 17 months for stealing a propaganda poster.

"It's definitely sad news", said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul.

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