SEOUL—North and South Korea opened a liaison office north of the demilitarized zone on Friday, an unprecedented step for political cooperation between the sides that comes as talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled.
The office, which some critics have described as a de facto embassy, will facilitate round-the-clock face-to-face communication, providing Seoul and Pyongyang with a concrete symbol of an engagement campaign that began this year. Each side will have 15 to 20 staffers at the facility, according to an agreement they signed on Friday.
But the move risks irking U.S. officials, who are seeking to maintain sanctions pressure on Pyongyang and worry that economic cooperation between the Koreas threatens to outpace progress on North Korean denuclearization, undermining U.S. leverage in the nuclear talks.
South Korea’s foreign minister told a legislative hearing last month that Seoul and Washington were working to resolve “differences in understanding” on the liaison office, among other matters.
The same day, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that the U.S. would examine whether the liaison office might violate sanctions on North Korea and that improved inter-Korean relations can’t happen in isolation from efforts to resolve Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
State Department officials haven’t said publicly whether the office constitutes a sanctions violation. A U.S. Embassy official in Seoul said the U.S. expects all United Nations member states to enforce U.N. sanctions and Security Council resolutions, and believes improvement in inter-Korean relations should move in lockstep with denuclearization.
An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.
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