Because of the coronavirus pandemic, North Korea will not participate in this year's Tokyo Olympics, putting an end to Seoul's hopes of using the games to resume talks with its nuclear-armed neighbor.
North Korea's inclusion in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, was a crucial factor in the diplomatic thaw that occurred in 2018.
In a whirlwind of publicity, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's niece, Kim Yo Jong, attended as his ambassador, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in used the opportunity to broker talks between Pyongyang and Washington, leading to a series of high-profile meetings between Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump.
Pyongyang's announcement, however, puts an end to Seoul's hopes of using the postponed Tokyo Olympics, which are scheduled to begin in July, to revive the now-stalled talks process.
According to the Sports in the DPR Korea website run by North Korea's sports ministry, the North Korean Olympic Committee "decided not to compete in the 32nd Olympic Games in order to shield participants from the world public health crisis triggered by COVID-19."
The announcement, which was made on Monday, mentioned a March 25 meeting of the national Olympic committee.
The official KCNA news agency in Pyongyang had previously carried a dispatch on the committee meeting, but it did not mention the Olympic decision.
North Korea is under international sanctions for its prohibited nuclear programs, and it is more isolated than ever since implementing a tight border lockdown more than a year ago to shield itself from the virus that began in neighboring China and spread around the world.
It claims there have been no coronavirus outbreaks, but experts are skeptical.
The new US administration of Joe Biden is updating North Korea's strategy, with officials generally expected to prefer resuming lower-level talks over high-stakes, high-drama summits.
Biden referred to Kim as a "thug" during the campaign and has slammed Trump's meetings, claiming they legitimized one of the world's most ruthless leaders, but he has also confirmed that he is open to diplomacy.
After Pyongyang recently tested what US officials believe to be ballistic missiles, Biden warned North Korea of the repercussions of violating UN Security Council resolutions.
Inter-Korean relations have also come to a halt, with Pyongyang regularly stating that it has no desire to speak to Seoul and blowing up a liaison office on its side of the border last year.
“This year's Tokyo Olympics may be an opportunity for dialogues between South Korea and Japan, the North and the South, North Korea, and Japan, and North Korea and the United States,” Moon said in his Independence Day speech on March 1.
The day commemorates mass demonstrations against Tokyo's colonial rule across the Korean peninsula in 1919.
North Korea constantly chastises Japan for its brutal 20th-century occupation, with a study published by KCNA on Sunday criticizing new Japanese history textbooks as "persistent and shameful distortion of history."