The US special representative for North Korea policy, Joseph Yun (left), talks with South Korea's special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, Lee Do-hoon, before a trilateral meeting in Seoul. Photo: Reuters / Kim Hong-Ji

Joseph Yun, the man who has been working behind the scenes for the US to keep “back channel” lines of communication open with North Korea, announced this week that he would retire, effective on Friday.

The surprise decision has prompted concern among some in Washington, who see him as an important advocate for engaging North Korea diplomatically.

“This is my own personal decision,” Yun told The Washington Post. “Secretary [of State Rex] Tillerson has told me he appreciates my service and did not want me to go, but he accepts it reluctantly.”

Yun, the deputy assistant secretary for Korea and Japan, is the US State Department’s main go-between for dealing with North Korea, and also the point man for discussing the issue with allies in Tokyo and Seoul. In addition to his key role in the so-called “New York channel” talks between North Korean UN diplomats and the US, Yun met last year with a top North Korean official in Norway to secure the release of American student Otto Warmbier.

Moon pushes for direct talks

His announcement on Monday comes after US President Donald Trump reiterated his administration’s firm stance on conditions for talks with Pyongyang.

Also on Monday, it was reported that South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged the US and North Korea both to give ground in order to come to the negotiating table. Trump left the door open, but indicated he wouldn’t back down from the condition that Pyongyang is willing to talk denuclearization.

“They want to talk. We want to talk also, only under the right conditions. Otherwise we’re not talking,” Trump was quoted by Reuters as saying while hosting a meeting with state governors at the White House.

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