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South Korean nuclear envoy to propose ‘phased denuke approach’ to US counterpart

South Korea affirmed its stance on a comprehensive agreement and step-by-step implementation approach for North Korea’s denuclearization process, ahead of ministerial level talks with the US.

Before departing for Washington on Thursday, Lee Do-hoon, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said he would discuss ways to rekindle the bilateral dialogue between the US and North Korea with US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun, during his three-day visit there till Saturday. 


Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (right) and Lee Do-hoon, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs (Yonhap)
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (right) and Lee Do-hoon, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs (Yonhap)


“The most important thing now is to resume US-North Korea negotiations and what we can do to help it,” he said.

Lee will accompany Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, who will meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington on Friday. He will have a separate meeting with Biegun.

This will be Kang’s first meeting with Pompeo since the second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ended without a joint agreement in late February.

“I will talk with Pompeo about the development of the situation and how to cooperate in the future,” Kang told reporters at Incheon International Airport before leaving to attend a UN ministerial meeting on peacekeeping in New York on Friday. “It’s going to be a good consultation.”

Washington and Pyongyang remain far apart in their approaches to the issue. Washington demands a “big deal” in which North Korea relinquishes all of its weapons of mass destruction. Pyongyang, on the other hand, says it is willing to give up nuclear weapons in a phased manner in exchange for partial sanctions relief.

Combining the demands from the two sides, Seoul has been suggesting they meet midway by drawing up a road map for the entire process of denuclearizaiton and dividing the implementation process into pieces so that the North would be able to get reciprocal measures from the US for each step.

Concern has been growing that the US-North Korea talks are losing stream, with no signs of resumption in the month since the Hanoi summit ended without results.

While the North’s Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui threatened to pull out of nuclear negotiations with Washington on March 15, state-run media and propaganda outlets have been calling on Seoul to play an active role in implementing measures to improve inter-Korean relations.

The Trump administration views the lifting of sanctions as the only leverage that will lead to changes in North Korea’s behavior, making it hard for the US to accept North Korea’s requests for “step-by-step, simultaneous measures,” said Woo Jung-yeop, a research fellow at the Sejong Institute in Seoul.

With the two countries making public their proposals discussed in the Hanoi summit, they could find it difficult to withdraw or go back on their words.

“It is more likely that the US-North Korea negotiations will proceed with a structure that forces each side to rely on concessions rather than the possibility of proceeding with a compromise” he said.

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com
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