By Koh Byung-joon
SEOUL, April 19 (Yonhap) -- North Korea skipped a weekly meeting of the co-chiefs of an inter-Korean liaison office for the eighth straight week on Friday, deepening concerns about slumping cross-border exchanges amid stalled denuclearization negotiations between the U.S. and the North.
"North Korea informed us in advance that the North's office head could not attend this week's meeting," unification ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min told a regular press briefing. "The meeting will not be held (this week), but the two Koreas continue to discuss necessary matters in a normal manner."
When the two Koreas launched the liaison office last September in the North's border town of Kaesong, they promised to hold a meeting of its co-heads -- Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung on the South side and his North Korean counterpart Jon Jong-su -- every week, mostly on Fridays, to discuss cross-border issues.
The weekly meeting has not been held since before the Hanoi summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump, which ended without a deal due to differences over how to match Pyongyang's denuclearization steps with Washington's sanctions relief. It was last held on Feb. 22.
North Korea has denounced South Korea for not being active enough in pushing for full-blown cross-border exchanges and cooperation due to excessive mindfulness of U.S. pressure to keep sanctions in place against Pyongyang until its complete denuclearization.
On March 22, North Korea abruptly withdrew all of its staff from the liaison office without providing clear reasons, though some of them were sent back to the office days later.
Experts said that the withdrawal might be aimed at pressuring South Korea to do more to persuade the U.S. to lower its demands in the stalled denuclearization negotiations.
The liaison office opened last September to facilitate inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation in accordance with an agreement reached by President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim at their first summit in April last year.
Relations between the South and the North made significant strides last year, with Moon and Kim holding three summits, but the reconciliation process remains deadlocked as the denuclearization negotiations between the North and the U.S. have made little progress.
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