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Biegun proposes meeting with North Korean counterparts

US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun on Monday proposed a meeting with North Korean officials during his visit to Seoul, saying Washington is willing to discuss all issues of interest to Pyongyang if they resume denuclearization talks.

He said it was “not too late” for North Korea to choose a “better way,” following the regime’s second “crucial” test at its long-range rocket launch site Friday.

The test may have been an attempt to advance technology for intercontinental ballistic missiles that could potentially reach the continental US.


US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun (Yonhap)
US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun (Yonhap)


“Let me speak directly to our counterparts in North Korea. It is time for us to do our jobs. Let’s get this done. We are here. And you know how to reach us,” Biegun said in a press conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seoul after his meeting with First Vice Foreign Minister Cho-Sei-young and top nuclear envoy Lee Do-hoon.

Biegun arrived in Seoul on Sunday for a three-day visit. Speculation has been rampant that he might meet his North Korean counterparts at the inter-Korean border truce village of Panmunjom in an attempt to break the deadlock in nuclear talks.

Biegun appeared to have planned the rare press conference in order to reach out to North Korean officials during his trip by making the proposal public.

Concerns have been mounting that the North may lift its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests, suspended since 2017, after recent tests at its western Sohae Satellite Launching Station and suspicious activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, allegedly shut down by the regime last May.

“We are fully aware of the strong potential for North Korea to conduct a major provocation in the days ahead. Such an action will be most unhelpful in achieving a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. It doesn’t have to be this way,” Biegun said.

He also expressed regret over statements by North Korean officials in recent weeks, saying their tone has been “so hostile and negative and so unnecessary.”

“In their statement is the end of the year deadline. Let me be clear. The US does not have a deadline, we have a goal to fulfill our commitments from our historical summit in Singapore. Over the years, President Trump has listened carefully to Chairman Kim ... and he is committed to the same goal,” he said.

North Korea has warned that it will find “a new way” if the US fails to adopt a more flexible approach to negotiations before the North’s self-imposed year-end deadline.

“We have offered any number of creative ways to proceed with feasible steps and flexibility in our negotiations to reach balanced agreements that meet the objectives of both sides,” Biegun said. “But the US cannot do it alone.”

Lee Do-hoon, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, said the US reaffirmed its position that all issues of interest to North Korea will be on the negotiating table when their talks resume.

“Biegun stressed that the US’ willingness to resolve issues regarding denuclearization negotiations through diplomacy and dialogue has been unchanged,” Lee said.

Biegun, who is in the process of securing congressional confirmation to become deputy secretary of state, paid a courtesy call on President Moon Jae-in before a luncheon with Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul.

“President Moon evaluated the efforts Biegun has made for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of a permanent peace regime, and urged him to continue his efforts to advance the peace process on the Korean Peninsula,” Cheong Wa Dae’s deputy spokesperson Han Jung-woo said.

Experts here said prospects are dismal for US-North Korea nuclear talks next year. The Korea Institute for Defense Analyses released a report Monday indicating North Korea could seek to develop ICBMs capable of carrying multiple warheads next year if its talks with the US collapse. US President Donald Trump is likely to set the North Korean issue aside as his reelection campaign will be in full swing.

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)
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