U.S. President Donald Trump in a surprise announcement Friday withdrew a new round of sanctions against North Korea that had been announced only 24 hours earlier by his own government.
"It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large-scale sanctions would be added to those already existing sanctions on North Korea," Trump tweeted. "I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional sanctions!"
The move came 17 hours after Pyongyang notified Seoul that it is pulling officials from the new inter-Korean liaison office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong. It is unclear what specific sanctions Trump was canceling.
He may have been referring to the Treasury's announcement of sanctions targeting two Chinese shipping companies that helped North Korea evade sanctions. But U.S. media said he was talking about another round of massive sanctions his administration was preparing to announce this week.
Trump's spur-of-the-moment change of position is no longer surprising but cause confusion because he seemed uncertain what he was talking about. Until then it seemed that Washington was determined to take a harder line on North Korea after a bilateral summit in Hanoi collapsed.
Cheong Wa Dae made no comment, but the announcement is likely to have come as a relief since Seoul hopes to continue engagement with North Korea.
Officials were flummoxed when the North abruptly pulled out of the liaison office last Friday even though no meaningful work had been done there since it opened. A Cheong Wa Dae official said, "It seems President Trump and [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un are seeking various ways to resume dialogue."
Seoul is trying to restore dialogue channels with Pyongyang. Some 54 South Korean officials will travel to Kaesong to work at the liaison office on Monday, the Unification Ministry said. This will bring the total number of South Korean officials there to 79, including those who stayed after the North pulled out.
A bus carrying South Korean officials heads to an inter-Korean liaison office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong on Monday. /Newsis