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US envoy for N. Korea visits S. Korea

The US special envoy on North Korea began his three-day trip to Seoul on Monday to meet his counterparts here amid growing momentum for a breakthrough in stalled denuclearization talks.

In his first visit to Seoul since his appointment last month, Stephen Biegun, special representative for North Korea, met with his counterpart Lee Do-hoon to be briefed on South Korean special envoys’ recent trip to Pyongyang and to discuss ways to achieve denuclearization. 
Stephen Biegun (Yonhap)
Stephen Biegun (Yonhap)

After arriving in Seoul around 5 p.m., Biegun held closed-door talks over dinner on Monday with Lee, representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs. On Tuesday, he is to hold a formal meeting with Lee, and pay a courtesy call to Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon.

“I’m very much looking forward to talking to our South Korean hosts about how we can make progress in denuclearization and bringing stable peace to the Korean Peninsula,” he told reporters at Incheon Airport.

He was accompanied by Mark Lambert, the State Department’s director for Korea policy, and Allison Hooker, Korea specialist on Washington’s National Security Council. 

His visit comes amid growing momentum for a breakthrough in negotiations between the US and North Korea following North Korea’s low-key military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the country’s foundation. Intercontinental ballistic missiles thought to be capable of reaching the US mainland were absent from the parade and Kim did not address the public at the event.

Biegun, a former Ford Motor executive, has been tasked with leading denuclearization negotiations with North Korea, filling the post left vacant since US President Donald Trump took office. He was due to travel with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang last month, but Trump “postponed” the trip, citing insufficient progress in denuclearization talks.

Biegun is to visit Beijing and Tokyo next as part of his Asia tour from Monday through Saturday, according to the US State Department.

With a shared strategy to move forward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula expected to top the agenda, speculations are rife that Biegun might be carrying a message from Trump, or that he might discuss Pompeo’s possible visit to Pyongyang or a declaration to end the Korean War.

The upcoming inter-Korean summit to be held in Pyongyang from Sept. 18 to 20 is also likely to be on the agenda amid expectations for Moon’s role as a mediator in denuclearization efforts.

“As it is their first meeting, they will greet each other, share the outcome of the South Korean special delegation’s visit to Pyongyang and discuss ways to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and maintain close coordination between South Korea and the US,” said a Foreign Ministry official.