Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun (left) poses with First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun at the State Department in Washington. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun on Saturday reaffirmed that Seoul and Washington are working to launch new working-level talks in October, ruling out speculation the two sides are in dissent over the matter.
Choi returned home Saturday from Washington, where he met US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun and other US officials for talks on enhancing the alliance and other bilateral issues.
After the meeting, the Foreign Ministry here said the two sides agreed to establish a new working-level dialogue channel between the director-level officials at Seoul’s Foreign Ministry and Washington’s State Department. Tentatively called the “Alliance Dialogue,” the purpose of the new channel is for the two sides to consult on a wide range of issues constantly and quickly.
But the State Department’s press release did not mention it, which raised speculation here that the two allies may not be on the same page on the new format.
Deputy Secretary of State Biegun and the US earnestly agreed with the (‘Alliance Dialogue’) and we aim to hold the first meeting in mid-October,” Choi told reporters at Incheon Airport upon returning from his trip Saturday.
As for the absence of the Alliance Dialogue in the State Department’s statement, Choi stressed that that the content of the press releases could be different, as each side is free to put what they want to highlight in their statements.
When asked whether Washington requested Seoul to take side with the US amid the escalating US-China rivalry, Choi said he was not pressured to take one side over the other.
“I explained that the Korea and the US relation alliance is at the foundation, and that we are close to China strategically, economically and socially,” he said.
During the meeting that lasted more than two hours Thursday, Choi and Biegun discussed wide-ranging issues, including the deadlocked defense cost-sharing talks for the upkeep of 28,500 American troops stationed here. It was Choi’s first in-person meeting with his US counterpart Biegun since Choi’s appointment last month.
Choi said he and Biegun candidly exchanged their views on the defense cost-sharing talks and agreed to consult closely to narrow the differences and make progress in the negotiations.
The two sides also touched on a stalemate in denuclearization efforts with Pyongyang.
“Both sides agreed to closely work together to resume the inter-Korean and US-North Korea talks at an early date,” he said.
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org