US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun (Yonhap)
US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, who doubles as Washington’s point man on North Korea, is set to visit South Korea on Tuesday to discuss alliance issues and the stalled talks on North Korea’s denuclearization, officials said Monday.
Biegun will stay in Seoul from Tuesday to Friday, in what is likely his last trip to Seoul as the No. 2 American diplomat and the US special representative for North Korea, as the Donald Trump administration’s single four-year term soon comes to an end in January.
“He will meet with officials in the Republic of Korea to discuss the US-ROK Alliance and our shared commitment to regional security, stability, and prosperity throughout Indo-Pacific, and continued close coordination on North Korea,” the State Department said in a statement.
On Wednesday, the US envoy will hold talks with First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun to discuss bilateral relations as well as other regional and global issues. Biegun will then meet with Lee Do-hoon, Seoul’s top nuclear envoy, to consult on ways of cooperation between the two countries to make progress on achieving denuclearization and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, according to the Foreign Ministry here.
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha is planning to host a banquet for him and the US delegation Friday.
Unification Minister Lee In-young is also planning to meet with Biegun during his trip, though the exact schedule is yet to be announced, according to the Unification Ministry.
Biegun’s visit comes amid spiraling concern that Pyongyang could take military action to gain the upper hand in dealing with the incoming Joe Biden administration. Biegun, who previously sent public messages to Pyongyang during his previous visits here, could send some kind of signal to the reclusive regime this time as well.
Observers say Biegun could ask the North to refrain from provocations during the presidential transition period and urge Pyongyang to return to the negotiation table.
During Biegun’s last trip here in July, he expressed Washington’s resolve to resume the deadlocked dialogue with North, saying when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appoints a counterpart for talks, “they will find us ready at that very moment.”
Biegun has led working-level denuclearization negotiations with Pyongyang since August 2018, but the talks have been stalled since the two sides met in Sweden in October 2019.
President Trump met North Korean leader Kim three times starting with their first bilateral summit in Singapore in June 2018, but no meaningful outcome has been reached to end Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile program.
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org