The US Calls Off Talks With North Korea As Questions Swirl Over The Assassination Of Kim Jong-Un’s Brother

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Planned talks between the United States and North Korea have now been called off following the dictatorship’s latest missile launch and the assassination of Kim Jong-Un’s half brother in Malaysia. The Washington Post reports that talks have occurred “sporadically” over the years, normally in a neutral location. The now canceled meetings would’ve been held in New York thanks to North Korea’s first trip to the United States in over five years. The revelation that VX nerve agent was used in the assassination of Kim’s brother seems to have been the tipping point according to The Washington Post:

The plans for the “Track 1.5” talks were already hanging in the balance after North Korea launched a ballistic missile earlier this month and then found itself accused of assassinating Kim Jong Nam, the leader’s estranged half-brother, in a busy Kuala Lumpur airport terminal on Feb. 13. But Malaysia’s announcement Friday that his death was caused by VX, a lethal nerve agent banned under the international Chemical Weapons Convention, proved the final straw.

The State Department decided not to issue the visas to the North Korean diplomats due to travel from Pyongyang to New York for the talks, according to three people with knowledge of the decision.

The dissolution of the talks is not the only lingering issue following the assassination. Malaysian authorities are also being tasked with discovering how VX nerve agent made its way into the airport and if there are any traces left that could harm other travelers. The chemical weapon is one of the deadliest on the planet, with Reuters saying “a single drop is enough to kill in minutes.” Authorities in the nation are currently working to sweep and decontaminate the terminal for chemical traces but would not be closing the airport.

One of the women involved in the attack was showing effects of VX following the attack, vomiting once in custody according to Reuters. But none of this provides solid evidence as to how the chemical agent was able to make its way into the country, despite suspicions against a North Korean diplomat according to Al-Jazeera:

“The big question is how these two women get hold of the toxic substance,” she said. “How did this highly toxic substance come into this country?”

VX is a fast-acting toxin that sparks respiratory collapse and heart failure. Tiny amounts of the poison are enough to kill an adult, whether it is inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

A leading regional security expert told AFP it would not have been difficult to get VX into Malaysia in a diplomatic pouch, which would not be subject to regular customs checks.

North Korea has previously used the pouches “to smuggle items including contraband and items that would be subjected to scrutiny if regular travel channels were used,” said Rohan Gunaratna, the head of the Singapore-based International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research.

Authorities are seeking Hyon Kwang Song, an official from the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, in connection to the attacks. Song is one of seven North Koreans wanted in connection to attack, but may be able to skirt arrest thanks to his diplomatic status. This isn’t stopping the Malaysian police from seeking him out according to Reuters:

“Reasonable” time will be given for the diplomat to come forward before police take further action, [Selangor state police chief Abdul Samah Mat] said, adding that if the diplomat did not cooperate, the police would issue a notice under Malaysian law, compelling him to appear before the investigation team.

“And if he failed to turn up upon given this notice, then we will go to the next step by getting a warrant of arrest from the court,” he told reporters.

Four of the other North Koreans wanted for questioning have fled back to the nation while two more remain in Malaysia. Reuters adds the location of a final suspect, Ri Ji U, is unknown. Al-Jazeera reports that experts believe North Korea to have “5,000 tonnes of chemical weapons stockpiled, including a supply of VX.” The nation’s alleged use in a public setting is receiving nearly universal condemnation, but it remains to be seen if any consequences will follow the assassination.

(Via Washington Post / Reuters / Al-Jazeera)