U.S. ready to negotiate with North, envoy says
Alex Wong, the U.S. deputy special representative for North Korea, said in a Senate hearing Wednesday that the United States is ready to negotiate the dismantling of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program while maintaining a pressure campaign on the regime.
“The United States is ready,” said Wong, speaking during a virtual confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “We have a strong team here, an interagency team ready to negotiate. But we need to continue on the strategy, continue on the pressure, continue to galvanize the world behind the consensus strategy of using pressure again to channel North Korea to productive negotiations.”
In February, Wong was nominated by U.S. President Donald Trump as the alternate representative for special political affairs in the United Nations, an ambassadorial rank.
Wong had been asked by a senator on the status of the stalled denuclearization talks with North Korea, and if there is something around the corner that may change the equation, especially in light of recent reports that Pyongyang has been miniaturizing nuclear warheads.
“We have not yet, as is obvious, reached a final and fully verified denuclearization of North Korea, which is the objective of the president’s policy and of his negotiations,” replied Wong. “I will be first to tell you that we have not yet done the working-level negotiations, the hard work of the negotiations that we need to do to develop the road map to realize that objective."
But Wong saw some success in the first summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Trump in Singapore over two years ago on June 12, 2018.
“We have something that we haven’t had before, which is a leader-level commitment to the complete denuclearization of North Korea,” he said.
Wong has been heavily involved in the working-level denuclearization negotiations with North Korea over the years and most recently accompanied U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, the top American nuclear envoy, on a visit to Seoul last month.
Wong addressed a recently leaked United Nations report that indicated that North Korea had developed miniaturized nuclear devices able to fit into the warheads of its ballistic missiles.
"For years, North Korea has been pursuing nuclear weapons, it’s been pursing missile technology, to threaten the region, threaten the world and to threaten the United States of America. But that’s why it’s so important to have the policy and strategy that we do,” he said, while admitting he hadn’t had a “chance to fully review” the confidential report submitted to the UN Security Council Monday.
Wong referred to the U.S.-led international pressure campaign on North Korea, which since 2017 has involved sanctions, diplomatic isolation and cooperation with partners around the world. He said the pressure campaign's goal was “to show that there are costs” for “departing from the international consensus on nonproliferation” and “to channel them into productive negotiations on a road map that will implement the complete denuclearization that Chairman Kim committed to President Trump.”
Wong acknowledged Washington’s “complicated” relationship with Beijing, but said the country still has a role to play.
"One thing they have consistently said to us is that they see North Korea as an area upon which we can build cooperation or continue to cooperate. That is a good sentiment,” he said, adding, “I do believe we have overlapping interests with China on the peninsula; perhaps not identical interests but overlapping interests, so we can grow that. But that takes work.”
Biegun said during a press conference in Seoul last month that when Kim Jong-un appoints a working-level counterpart to him, “they will find us ready at that very moment” to resume negotiations for “a peaceful outcome on the Korean Peninsula.”
The second North-U.S. summit collapsed in late February 2019 when the two sides clashed over the scope of denuclearization needed for some sanctions relief. However, the two sides were unable to iron out their differences in their last working-level talks in Stockholm in October 2019.
David Stilwell, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, also stressed that Pyongyang “must halt provocations” and “engage in sustained negotiations with the United States to achieve complete denuclearization.”
The U.S. State Department said in a press statement Wednesday that Stilwell and Laotian Deputy Foreign Minister Thongphane Savanphet discussed the matter during the 33rd U.S.-Asean dialogue held Tuesday.
Washington also urged Asean countries “to continue implementing and enforcing UN sanctions,” it added, indicating no plans to let up on its international pressure campaign on Pyongyang.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]