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Biegun visits Seoul for talks on bilateral alliance, N. Korea

US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun (AFP-Yonhap)
US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun (AFP-Yonhap)
US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun arrived in Seoul on Tuesday for talks with South Korean officials on the bilateral alliance and the stalled nuclear negotiations with North Korea.

Biegun landed aboard a chartered plane at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, at about 4:15 p.m., officials said.

Among his delegation were Alex Wong, deputy assistant secretary of state for North Korea, and Allison Hooker, senior director for Asian affairs at the White House's National Security Council, according to diplomatic sources.

His four-day trip comes amid concern that North Korea could stage provocations to test the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden that has yet to unveil its detailed policy on the communist state.

The trip is expected to be his last visit to Seoul as the No. 2 American diplomat and the US envoy for North Korea under the Donald Trump administration that ends its four-year term early next year.

On Wednesday, Biegun will hold talks with First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun before meeting with Seoul's chief nuclear negotiator, Lee Do-hoon, to discuss the prolonged deadlock in the denuclearization talks with Pyongyang, the foreign ministry said.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha plans to host a banquet for him Friday.

Biegun is scheduled to hold a breakfast meeting with Unification Minister Lee In-young on Thursday, a ministry official told reporters.

During his visit, Biegun is also expected to meet with Kent Harstedt, Swedish special envoy for the Korean Peninsula, who will also be in Seoul, sources said. Sweden has played host to key working-level talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

Biegun will meet with other senior national security officials here and could pay a courtesy call on President Moon Jae-in.

He is also due to give a lecture at a local think tank.

Biegun's discussions during the trip are expected to focus on ways to keep the situation on the Korean Peninsula stable. He is likely to send out a message urging Pyongyang to refrain from provocations and return to dialogue.

Denuclearization talks with North Korea have made little progress since the 2019 summit of Trump and the North's leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi broke down without a deal.

Other issues he could discuss include the stalled negotiations on determining South Korea's share of the costs to maintain some 28,500 American troops stationed here.

Biegun was appointed in August 2018 as the US Special Representative for North Korea and promoted to deputy secretary in December last year. Despite the promotion, he has concurrently served as the lead interlocutor with the North.

Biegun will depart for home Saturday. (Yonhap)
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