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Senior US diplomat to visit Seoul this week

US Department of State (Yonhap)
US Department of State (Yonhap)

A senior US diplomat for East Asia is scheduled to visit South Korea on Wednesday, during which he is expected to meet the South Korean presidential candidates of the two major parties.

Daniel Kritenbrink, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, is on his first Asia trip since taking office in September. He will arrive here on Wednesday after a four-day stay in Japan, according to the State Department.

In Seoul, Kritenbrink is expected to meet officials, including his South Korean counterpart, Yeo Seung-bae, deputy foreign minister for political affairs, on Thursday to discuss bilateral relations, North Korea and other regional issues. 

Kritenbrink is also set to hold separate talks with Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea on Thursday. He is also expected to meet Yoon Seok-youl of the main opposition People Party on Friday. The candidates are expected to share with Kritenbrink their visions on foreign policy and discuss a wide range of bilateral and regional issues.

The diplomat’s visit comes as Seoul and Washington have been calling for Pyongyang to return to dialogue, which has been stalled since the collapse of the Hanoi summit in 2019.

In an attempt to salvage diplomacy with Pyongyang, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been pushing to declare a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War.

The two Koreas are technically still at war, as the Korean War concluded not in a peace treaty but in an armistice agreement signed by the US-led United Nations Command, China and North Korea.

Seoul views an end-of-war declaration as a catalyst for future talks and a political gesture to build trust and end hostilities with Pyongyang. Meanwhile, observers said it would be difficult for Washington to sign on to Seoul’s end-of-war declaration idea without a commitment to denuclearization from North Korea, or at least concrete steps toward that goal.

Washington had indicated that the allies could have “different perspectives” on the sequence, timing and conditions on the end-of-war declaration.

Kritenbrink is a career diplomat who was most recently the ambassador to Vietnam. He served multiple posts related to Asia, including senior adviser for North Korea policy at the department and senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security council. Considered a China expert, Kritenbrink also served as the deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Beijing and speaks fluent Japanese and Chinese. 

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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