The US special envoy on North Korea said Tuesday that South Korea and the US need to make the most of the opportunity to achieve denuclearization amid growing momentum for a breakthrough in stalled denuclearization talks.
“We have some hard work to do,” Stephen Biegun, special representative for North Korea, said in an opening speech during a meeting with his counterpart Lee Do-hoon. “But we also have a tremendous opportunity created by President Donald Trump and by President Moon Jae-in and by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.”
It was his first visit to Seoul since he was appointed last month to fill a post left vacant since Trump took office. He is said to be “positively” considering stopping by Seoul on his way back to the US, to brief South Korean officials on the outcome of his Northeast Asian tour. He is to visit Beijing and Tokyo until Saturday.
“I heard there is a Korean proverb that the beginning is half done. And this is the beginning,” Biegun said. “So what we need to do is to finish the job.”
Biegun and Lee met Tuesday to discuss South Korean special envoys’ recent trip to Pyongyang and ways to achieve denuclearization. Biegun also paid a courtesy call to Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon.
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.
“Now we are faced with challenges as well as opportunities in terms of making progress on denuclearization and establishing a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” Lee said. “I think in doing that process close coordination between the US and Korea is -- should be -- the key.”
Biegun’s visit came amid growing momentum for a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump. Kim sent a “very warm, positive” letter to Trump asking for the summit, according to the White House.
Moon plans to visit Pyongyang next week for his third meeting with Kim.
Biegun also expressed support for South Korea’s efforts to deepen inter-Korean relations during his meeting with Unification Minister Cho later in the day.
South Korea plans to hold a ceremony to mark the opening of an inter-Korean liaison office in the border city of Kaesong on Friday, which has been delayed for weeks amid concerns that the transfer of fuel and other commodities for its operation could constitute a possible violation of international sanctions on North Korea.
“South Korea and the US are maintaining unshaken, close coordination on matters regarding North Korea, and have constantly consulted each other on the opening of the liaison office,” spokesman Noh Kyu-duk said at a press briefing.
He added the Biegun’s visit was a chance to help the US better understand South Korea’s perspective on the opening of the liaison office.
South Korea maintains that the inter-Korean liaison office does not violate sanctions against the North and close inter-Korean communication will facilitate the North’s denuclearization process.