WASHINGTON -- US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday he will travel to North Korea again next week to continue negotiations on the dismantlement of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.
Pompeo also announced the appointment of Ford Vice President Stephen Biegun as US special representative for North Korea, saying the two will travel to Pyongyang together.
"Steve will direct US policy towards North Korea and lead our efforts to achieve President Trump's goal of the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea, as agreed to by Chairman Kim Jong-un," Pompeo said at the State Department.
"He and I will be traveling to North Korea next week to make further diplomatic progress towards our objective," he added, without disclosing the dates.
The US and North Korea have been in talks to implement an agreement reached by Trump and Kim at their landmark June meeting in Singapore. The deal calls for the "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for security guarantees from the US.
In working out the details, however, the two sides have appeared to disagree on which steps to take first, with Washington demanding full disclosure of the North's nuclear arsenal and Pyongyang pushing a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice.
Tensions are also apparent over the issue of sanctions on North Korea.
The US has vowed to keep the sanctions in place until the North denuclearizes. This month alone, it announced three sets of unilateral sanctions aimed at cutting off North Korea's illicit trade.
Pyongyang has repeatedly slammed the international sanctions campaign. Last week Kim called it "brigandish" action by "hostile forces."
Pompeo will be making his fourth visit to Pyongyang this year.
On his first two trips, he met with Kim to lay the groundwork for the first-ever meeting between a US and North Korean leader.
His third trip was a follow-up to the Singapore summit. And despite the White House's announcement that Pompeo would meet with Kim again, no such meeting materialized.
Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, said Pompeo does not expect to meet with Kim on his fourth trip.
"We don't have that scheduled. We have no expectations of meeting with Chairman Kim. That is not a part of this trip," she said at a regular press briefing. "We are leaving relatively soon. Exact time and date, I don't know, but we'll be headed out soon."
Trump said this week that it's "most likely" he will have a second meeting with Kim.
The speculation is that the two could meet on the occasion of the United Nations General Assembly in New York next month. But it's unclear whether the North Korean leader has plans to attend the international gathering.
Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon Jae-in is slated to hold his third summit with Kim in Pyongyang next month, while Chinese President Xi Jinping is rumored to be planning a visit to the North Korean capital around the Sept. 9 anniversary of the communist ally's founding.
"As the special representative, Steve will lead negotiations and spearhead diplomatic efforts with our allies and partners," Pompeo said. "Using diplomacy to resolve the North Korean security threat once and for all remains one of President Trump's greatest priorities, and Steve is eminently qualified for the task and clear-eyed in the challenge before us."
Biegun, who worked on the White House National Security Council from 2001-2003, fills a position left vacant by the retirement of Joseph Yun in March. Earlier in the day Ford announced his retirement as vice president of international governmental affairs.
"The issues are tough, and they will be tough to resolve," Biegun said, standing next to Pompeo. "But the president has created an opening, and it's one that we must take by seizing every possible opportunity to realize the vision for a peaceful future for the people of North Korea."
Biegun has previously served as a foreign policy adviser to members of Congress. (Yonhap)