State Dept. halts plan for back-channel US-North Korea talks: report

State Dept. halts plan for back-channel US-North Korea talks: report
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Talks between former U.S. officials and North Korean representatives were scrapped Friday after the State Department denied a visa for the country’s envoy, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

The unofficial meeting between the two countries, which was set to take place in New York City in March, would have been the first such talks between the two countries on U.S. soil in more than five years.

It was not clear what led the State Department to withdraw the visa approval for Choe Son Hui, the director of the U.S. affairs department in North Korea’s Foreign Ministry. But the move came on heels of a recent missile test by North Korea and the assassination of leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother in Malaysia.

The plans for the meeting were first reported by The Washington Post earlier this week.

While tensions between the two countries have been ongoing for decades, they’ve worsened in recent years as Kim has stepped up efforts to develop nuclear weapons and missile systems capable of striking the U.S. and its allies.

Kim said in a speech in January that North Korea was close to testing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), and experts on the country warned that such a test could come at any time.

A missile test came earlier this month, while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Trump at the president’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

"The United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent," Trump said shortly after the missile test.

Because of its proximity to North Korea and its close alliance with the U.S., Japan is considered particularly vulnerable to the country’s missile threats.