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Biegun tries to keep talks going

U.S. negotiator joins with Korea, Japan to describe ‘crucial time’

June 03,2019
The top U.S. envoy to nuclear talks with North Korea said Sunday Washington is willing to continue dialogue with Pyongyang to fulfill the Singapore Agreement signed by the two countries’ leaders during their first summit in June 2018.

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen Biegun met his counterparts from South Korea, Lee Do-hoon, and Japan, Kanasugi Kenji, in two separate meetings over the weekend at a hotel in Singapore, where an Asian security summit was held.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday said Lee and Biegun agreed that the present was “a highly crucial time for practical progress and resumption of U.S.-North Korea dialogue” and that the allies would closely cooperate toward this goal.

The presence of diplomats like Biegun at the 18th Asia Security Summit, held from Friday to Sunday, suggested North Korea remains a priority on the U.S. agenda in the region, since the event was expected to largely feature defense officials like South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo.

After delivering an address on South Korea’s goals for security on the Korean Peninsula, Jeong told reporters at the summit that the projectiles launched by the North on May 4 and 9 were short-range missiles, the first official admission of that from Seoul.

On Sunday, a high-level government source in South Korea said intelligence officials in both Seoul and Washington reached the conclusion that the rockets from the two tests were short-range missiles, though whether they were ballistic remained to be determined.

The tests, which the North’s state media justified as regular drills, were played down by Seoul and Washington in fear they may jeopardize negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs. North Korea is believed to have carried out the provocations to pressure the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who last week dismissed concerns about the recent missile launches expressed by officials in his own government, walked away empty-handed from his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last February on the advice of aides like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, the latter of which continues to push a hard-line approach on the North that has more than once infuriated the regime in Pyongyang.

The New York Times and The Washington Post reported last week that Bolton could very well be next on Trump’s chopping board, as the president has openly complained about his national security adviser, and contradicted him publicly on whether the North Korean missile tests violated United Nations resolutions during a trip to Japan last week.

Biegun, by contrast, has remained steadfast to Trump’s dovish outreach to Pyongyang, repeatedly expressing a willingness to resume talks, even after Pyongyang fired its second missile in a week on May 9. One U.S. diplomatic source told the JoongAng Ilbo that Biegun was a rare figure in the current U.S. government because of his willingness to continue negotiations with North Korea, and can be set apart from Bolton and Pompeo in his attempts to “intellectualize” Trump’s policy toward Pyongyang.

Along with Seoul’s leading nuclear negotiator, Lee Do-hoon, Biegun appears to be one of the few optimists on the North, which has refrained from engaging with the United States or South Korea in recent months. Pyongyang has said it will not take part in the annual Northeast Asia Cooperation dialogue, an information communication channel between the member countries of the former Six Party Talks process, scheduled to be held in Hong Kong from June 12 to 13. Perhaps the only foreseeable venue for possible dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington is the Asean Regional Forum, slated for late July, to which North Korea has traditionally dispatched its Foreign Ministry officials.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]


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