Biegun tells legislators details about North talks

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Biegun tells legislators details about North talks

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun told a South Korean delegation of lawmakers that he and North Korean officials talked about a “dozen” issues last week in Pyongyang during working-level discussions on the upcoming U.S.-North summit, according to a member of the delegation on Tuesday.

Rep. Lee Soo-hyuck of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) told Washington correspondents of South Korean media outlets that the remark was made Monday in Washington, when the delegation met with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan. Biegun reportedly accompanied Sullivan to the meeting.

According to members of the delegation who briefed reporters about Monday’s meeting with Biegun, the U.S. nuclear envoy said his talks with North Korean officials last week were a chance to learn what both sides wanted from one another, and that both sides were going to narrow their gaps at the next working-level meeting before the summit.

Rep. Chung Dong-young of the minor leftist Party for Democracy and Peace quoted Biegun as saying that in the next working-level meeting, both sides plan to start drafting the declaration for the Vietnam summit, which is set for Feb. 27 and 28 in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi.

Rep. Lee Hae-chan, the DP’s chairman, said the delegation asked Biegun what specific issues both sides failed to agree on, but that Biegun refrained from responding, saying now wasn’t the right time to explain because he hasn’t reported to his superiors yet. Lee said he got the impression that the United States and North Korea will each arrive at next week’s working-level meeting with a draft of the Hanoi declaration and start “the last tuning.”

Rep. Choung Byoung-gug of the minor right-wing Bareunmirae Party said that when the South Korean delegation asked Biegun whether Pyongyang was asking for sanctions relief, the establishment of a U.S. liaison office in the North, the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tour packages, as well as a formal declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War, Biegun said the delegation was absolutely right.

Lee said he thinks North Korea would, for the most part, want the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and resumption of Mount Kumgang tours because North Korean leader Kim Jong-un personally mentioned those projects in his New Year’s address last Jan. 1.

But Washington officials seemed far from ready to allow South Korea to restart those economic engagements, according to South Korean lawmakers.

Chung of the Party for Democracy and Peace said that U.S. Deputy Secretary Sullivan made it clear sanctions won’t be eased before North Korea’s denuclearization. DP Chairman Lee said it appeared the U.S. government wished Seoul didn’t give off the impression it was trying to loosen sanctions, as Washington felt pressure from international sanctions was the reason why Pyongyang decided to come to the discussion table in the first place. Other members of the South Korean delegation echoed that impression, saying Washington was steadfast in its denial of sanctions relief before North Korea’s final, fully verified denuclearization.

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