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NK issue at pivotal moment: nuclear envoy

Noh Kyu-duk, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, speaks to reporters after arriving in Honolulu on Wednesday for a three-way meeting with his US and Japanese counterparts. (Yonhap)
Noh Kyu-duk, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, speaks to reporters after arriving in Honolulu on Wednesday for a three-way meeting with his US and Japanese counterparts. (Yonhap)

South Korea’s top nuclear envoy stressed that the situation on the Korean Peninsula is at a pivotal moment following North Korea’s recent series of missile tests, calling for the need of engagement with the reclusive regime. 

“I believe we are at a very pivotal moment that will decide if we will return to the period of cold winter or a season of warm atmosphere as it is here,” South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy Noh Kyu-duk told reporters upon arriving at Honolulu, Hawaii on Wednesday (local time). He is in Hawaii for a trilateral session with his American and Japanese counterparts, Sung Kim and Takehiro Funakoshi, respectively, scheduled for Thursday. Noh is also holding separate bilateral sessions with Kim and Funakoshi on the same day. 

The Korean envoy stressed that the stable management of the situation is more important than anything else, and that the three sides seek to hold in-depth and concrete talks on ways to effectively engage with North Korea. 

“Until now, there have been various consultations between South Korea and the US, along with Japan. I came here with a hope that (this meetings) will serve as an opportunity to come up with the most effective measures to work toward engagement (with the North),” he said. 

The three-way talks scheduled for Thursday comes as Pyongyang has been beefing up its arsenal, defying strict sanctions and the UN Security Council resolution which bans the country’s ballistic missile tests. 

On Jan. 30, the North fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile, marking its seventh weapons launch this year and what appeared to be the most powerful missile it has tested since 2017. The regime also hinted of ending its self-imposed, four-year moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles in order to bolster defense against the “hostile policy and military threat by the US.”

“The situation on the Korean Peninsula has become severe due to the North’s various messages and action,” said Noh. 

During Thursday’s talk, Seoul’s push to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War is likely be part of the agenda. Noh had called the end-of-war declaration as an “useful tool to start the denuclearization talks” as he left Seoul for Honolulu on Wednesday. 

Following their meetings, the three officials will also accompany their foreign ministers, who are set to hold three-way ministerial meetings on Saturday in Hawaii. 

Dealing with North Korea’s missile launch and expanding trilateral cooperation in tackling various issues are expected to be on the table at the meeting between South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi. 

Blinken stressed that the upcoming meeting in Hawaii is another opportunity to drive the trilateral collaboration among the US, South Korea and Japan forward. 

“We’ve been spending a lot of time –- Deputy Secretary Sherman and myself –- on trilateral collaboration among the United States, Japan, and Republic of Korea,” Blinken told the press on Wednesday en route to Melbourne as part of his week-long trip to the Asia-Paciic region. “This is another opportunity to drive that forward. There is a very broad common agenda that we have, of course, starting with challenges posed by the DPRK but going well beyond that. This is an important moment to keep driving that forward.”

DPRK stands for the Democratic People‘s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

On Thursday, South Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun and his American counterpart, Wendy Sherman had phone discussion. The two sides agreed to hold “in-depth” consultations on ways to cooperate in dealing with North Korea through this week’s back-to-back meetings in Hawaii, according to the Foreign Ministry.

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