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Biegun does the rounds in Seoul

Now is the time for cooperation between allies, envoy stresses

May 11,2019
Lee Do-hoon, South Korea’s special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, left, speaks with his U.S. counterpart, Stephen Biegun, in a bilateral working group meeting at Foreign Ministry in central Seoul Friday. [YONHAP]
The U.S. special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, visited South Korea’s presidential office Friday less than 24 hours after Pyongyang fired two short-range missiles into the East Sea to hold discussions with Kim Hyun-chong, the second deputy director of the Blue House National Security Office.

It was the first time Biegun, U.S. President Donald Trump’s point man on North Korea, met with a South Korean presidential secretary-level official at the Blue House as tensions between Washington and Pyongyang grow. Friday was Moon’s second anniversary in office.

The Blue House gave scant details of the Kim-Biegun meeting, only saying that it lasted for 1 hour and 20 minutes after starting at 3 p.m. and that both sides talked about recent events, possible follow-up measures to a phone call between Trump and Moon last Tuesday and ways to bilaterally cooperate for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Before Biegun and his delegation touched down in Seoul on Wednesday, South Korean officials had been drumming up expectations they would discuss possible food aid to the North with the U.S. visitors, but the Blue House did not say whether the issue was raised Friday.

Even so, South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with the North, said Friday that Pyongyang’s latest provocation did not affect the government’s plan to offer food aid to the North, suggesting Seoul will try to go ahead with the humanitarian aid package despite Thursday’s missile launches.

“The government’s stance has not changed that, when it comes to food aid, North Korea’s food circumstances are extremely serious and [the South Korean government] needs to provide food support for North Korean people out of brotherly love and on humanitarian grounds,” Lee Eugene, deputy spokesperson for the Unification Ministry, said during a regular press briefing on Friday.

Lee, however, pointed out that the government was planning to “thoroughly” canvas opinions from the general public on the issue because it needed their “sympathy and support.” How the administration was going to canvas public opinion wasn’t mentioned.

Before meeting Kim, Biegun talked with South Korean Foreign Affairs Minister Kang Kyung-wha for about 25 minutes at the ministry’s headquarters in central Seoul, after which he attended a monthly bilateral working group meeting between Washington and Seoul on North Korea’s denuclearization and developing inter-Korean relations.

Biegun refused to take any questions from local reporters as he entered the Foreign Ministry building, only saying, “Good morning.” Biegun initially planned to make opening remarks to the media during his meeting with Kang and hold a brief press conference after the working group meeting, but both events were canceled Friday morning, apparently due to North Korea’s missile launches Thursday afternoon.

Biegun’s attendance in the working group meeting was also cut short. He was originally supposed to jointly preside over the talks with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Do-hoon, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs. But sources in Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said he only delivered greetings and left the meeting room to hold bilateral discussions with Lee. Biegun was expected to have dinner with Lee Friday evening.

After the working group meeting, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement that both sides talked about the situation on the Korean Peninsula, including Thursday’s short-range missile launches, and held in-depth discussions on ways to cooperate on the complete denuclearization of the peninsula. Food aid for the North wasn’t mentioned in the ministry’s press release.

A Foreign Ministry official told reporters on the condition of anonymity that during Biegun’s meeting with Kang, he told her that the door for North Korea to return to the discussion table was still open. Biegun said now was a very important time for South Korea and the United States to continue their communication and cooperation. Kang was said to have expressed concern about North Korea’s short-range missile launches, saying they do no good for inter-Korean ties and for easing military tension on the Korean Peninsula.

Biegun arrived in Seoul on Wednesday for a four-day trip, his first since the second North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, collapsed in late February. Pyongyang fired two short-range missiles on Thursday - one at 4:29 p.m. and the other at 4:49 p.m. - into the East Sea, just five days after it fired several short-range projectiles on Saturday morning, of which at least one appeared to be a variant of the Russian Iskander short-range ballistic missile.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]


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