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Key US Diplomat on North Korea Matters to Retire

FILE - U.S. special envoy for North Korea policy Joseph Yun speaks to media in Bangkok, Thailand, Dec. 15, 2017. Yun, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. foreign service who retained quiet contacts with North Korea amid the Trump administration’s turbulent first year, is retiring as Washington and Pyongyang step up considerations for formal diplomatic talks.

Joseph Yun, the U.S. State Department's special representative for North Korean policy, is leaving his post later this week.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert issued a statement Monday saying Yun is retiring on Friday "for personal reasons," and that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has "reluctantly accepted" the veteran diplomat's decision.

Yun, who also holds the title of deputy assistant secretary of state for Korea and Japan, confirmed his retirement with several news outlets Monday.The 32-year State Department veteran was named special representative for North Korea policy in October 2016 under then-President Barack Obama.

His retirement comes amid signs that Pyongyang may finally be willing to hold direct talks with Washington over the North's development of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.Yun had strongly advocated direct engagement with the isolated regime, and had been holding regular talks with North Korean diplomats assigned to the United Nations.

Yun traveled to North Korea last June to secure the release of Otto Warmbier, the U.S. college student who was detained for 17 months for stealing a propaganda poster, before he was sent home in a coma with extensive brain damage and died just days after his return.

Yun's unexpected departure creates another crucial vacancy in the U.S. diplomatic corps under President Donald Trump's administration after 13 months in office.President Trump has yet to formally announce an ambassador to South Korea, and several key posts remain unfilled due to an exodus of numerous career diplomats and staffers.

After Yun’s departure, the special representative for North Korean policy position will be retained and continue to be organized under the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Seeking to alleviate concerns about the departure of the State Department’s senior diplomat on North Korea policy, Nauert said Tuesday “the State Department has 75,000 people that work for us around the world. To imply that Ambassador Yun is the only one that is capable of handling North Korea would simply be wrong.”

Nauert said the administration's efforts to isolate North Korea under its campaign of "maximum pressure" will continue until Pyongyang agrees to begin "credible talks towards a denuclearized Korean peninsula."