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S. Korea’s top nuclear envoy calls for flexibility in upcoming US-NK negotiations

South Korea’s top nuclear negotiator on Thursday called on the US and North Korea to take a flexible approach to achieve substantial progress ahead of their upcoming denuclearization talks.

“To keep the dialogue momentum (between the US and North Korea) alive and make substantial progress, they have to take a flexible approach,” Lee Do-hoon, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters at Incheon Airport before heading for the US. 

Lee Do-hoon (Yonhap)
Lee Do-hoon (Yonhap)

During his visit to Washington from Thursday through Saturday, Lee will meet with US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun on the first day to discuss agenda items for the upcoming working-level talks between the US and North Korea.

Lee is expected to share the outcome of his recent meeting with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui, who accompanied Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on a visit to Pyongyang early this month.

“Since North Korea has offered to resume the talks, I expect there is a lot to discuss between Seoul and Washington. I hope they discuss the ideas we will offer when they start negotiating substantive matters,” he said.

Biegun suggested in June that flexibility is needed to move the nuclear negotiations forward, as talks by the two sides have stalled following a second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that ended without an accord in February.

“Both sides understand the need for a flexible approach. … We have to go beyond the formulas that for the past 25 years have failed to resolve this problem,” Beigun said.

His remarks hinted at a change in the US’ pursuit of a one-time solution to get North Korea to halt its nuclear program and test-firing of other weapons.

The North has been calling on the US to accept its offer to abandon its nuclear arsenal and facilities in a phased manner in exchange for corresponding steps from the US, such as sanctions relief.

Washington and Pyongyang are expected to return to the negotiating table for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as early as later this month, after North Korea recently broke its silence on working-level talks that were supposed to have started in mid-July.

On Monday, an anonymous director general of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s department of American affairs demanded security guarantees and sanctions relief, saying the two countries could build closer relations depending on what Washington brings to the table.

“The denuclearization talks may be possible when threats and hurdles endangering our regime security and obstructing our development are clearly removed beyond all doubts,” the official said.

Following a meeting with Beigun, Lee will attend the UN General Assembly, which will be held in New York. He is expected to meet his new Japanese counterpart, Shigeki Takizaki, and hold another round of talks.

By Park Han-na  (
Korea Herald Youtube