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US envoy for North Korea to visit Seoul for three-way talks with Japan

Sung Kim, US Special Representative for North Korea (Yonhap)
Sung Kim, US Special Representative for North Korea (Yonhap)

Sung Kim, the newly appointed US special envoy for North Korea, is set to visit South Korea on Saturday for a three-way meeting with his counterparts in Seoul and Tokyo, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday. 

Kim’s five-day visit, which lasts till Wednesday, marks his first trip to South Korea since being appointed Biden’s point man on North Korea last month. 

The US envoy is set to hold a bilateral meeting on Monday with his South Korean counterpart, Noh Kyu-duk, to discuss cooperation in making substantive progress on the complete denuclearization and establishment of lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. On the same day, a trilateral session will take place involving Japan’s nuclear envoy Takehiro Funakoshi, who is also set to visit Seoul. Noh and Funakoshi are also scheduled to have a bilateral meeting. 

Amid speculation that Kim might also visit the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom during his trip and attempt to make contact with the North Korean side, the ministry official ruled out any such possibility. 

While in South Korea, Kim will likely meet Unification Minister Lee In-young as well. A ministry official on Thursday said Kim was expected to visit the Unification Ministry, but that the two sides were still arranging the precise timing and deciding whom he would meet. 

Kim, a veteran Korean American diplomat, is regarded as an expert on the Korean Peninsula issue, with vast experience dealing with the reclusive regime. He held the same position as the US’ chief nuclear envoy during the Obama administration and also helped organize former President Donald Trump’s Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2018. Sung Kim also led the US delegation at the six-party talks with the North during both the Bush and Obama administrations. 

Sung Kim, who previously served as ambassador to South Korea and the Philippines, doubles as ambassador to Indonesia. 

Biden announced the diplomat’s appointment during his summit with Moon last month, which was seen as a sign of Washington’s readiness to explore diplomacy and resume nuclear talks with Pyongyang. 

At the summit in Washington, the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to diplomacy and dialogue with the North toward the goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. 

The Biden administration has completed a US policy review toward the North and is now pursuing an approach that is “calibrated and practical” yet open to diplomacy. 

All eyes are on what message the US envoy will send to the recalcitrant regime, though Pyongyang has largely kept quiet on Seoul and Washington’s calls for engagement or the resumption of nuclear talks since early this year. The nuclear negotiations between the US and North Korea have remained stalled for two years since the collapse of the Hanoi summit between Kim Jong-un and Trump in 2019.

By Ahn Sung-mi (