US special representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun was set to arrive in Seoul on Wednesday evening to discuss Pyongyang’s recent firing of short-range projectiles and possibly food aid to the North.
During his four-day visit, Biegun is expected to meet with his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs at the Foreign Ministry, and attend a joint working group session on denuclearization and inter-Korean relations, where food aid to the impoverished state may be discussed.
Biegun’s trip comes after North Korea fired multiple short-range projectiles off the east coast Saturday, including what it claimed was a newly developed “tactical guided weapon.”
In a telephone conversation with President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump expressed support for Seoul’s planned provision of food to North Korea in a humanitarian move, saying it will be “very timely and a positive step,” according to Moon’s spokesperson.
According to a report released last week by UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program, about 40 percent of North Korea’s population is in urgent need of food aid after the country suffered its worst harvest in a decade.
The bad harvest has left North Korea with a shortage of grain amounting to 1.36 million tons, forcing its government to cut daily state rations, the WFP and FAO said in their joint assessment.
Biegun is expected to discuss with Seoul officials humanitarian aid to the North, although it may not be easy to reach a conclusion on the issue amid negative public opinion on Pyongyang after the firing of the projectiles.
In 2017, South Korea put off its plan to donate $8 million to the WFP and UN Children’s Fund to help North Korea’s malnourished children and pregnant women after Pyongyang launched a ballistic missile that flew over Japan.
The US envoy may also express views on whether Seoul should allow South Korean businessmen to visit their factories in the inter-Korean industrial enclave in the North’s Kaesong which was shut down in 2016.
The South Korean businessmen made their ninth request last week for government permission to visit Kaesong.
The last working group meeting between South Korea and the US was held two months ago in March in Washington.
Biegun may also pay a courtesy visit to Cheong Wa Dae and meet with Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul during his visit.
By Kim So-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org)