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Washington showing open hand, not closed fist: US ambassador

US Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris remained upbeat about relations between Washington and Pyongyang despite the recent missile tests by North Korea, saying in an interview with tbs eFM on Thursday that practical level talks should kick off soon.

“We are aware of those reports of missile launch from North Korea yesterday. We’re continuing to monitor the situation,” said Harris on “This Morning,” hosted by Alex Jensen. 

US Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris
US Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris

“I’ll just say that Secretary (of State Mike) Pompeo said that he’s hoping working level talks will start very soon, I don’t know what very soon means, other than very soon, I guess, so I think there’s reason for optimism here.”

He added that continue working-level talks is something that the North’s Chairman Kim Jong-un himself committed to at Panmunjom.

Touching upon the reasons to be skeptical, a major one being that Pyongyang has expressed its displeasure with the planned military drills between the allies scheduled to begin next week, Harris noted that the exercises have been re-scoped.

“Gen. Abrams and his team at US Forces Korea Command, they have rescoped the exercises to focus them better on the requirements and they’re smaller in scale,” said the ambassador. “I think that both from the military and greater political perspective President Trump is showing Chairman Kim Jong-un, he’s showing him the open hand, rather than the closed fist.”

Harris also downplayed the severity of the latest missile tests, saying that they were short-range tests that Washington chooses not to be “overly” bothered with.

“What we’re concerned with is the greater issue, which is bringing peace to the Peninsula and achieving Final Fully Verified Denuclearization of North Korea,” he added.

On Thursday, Pyongyang denied that Wednesday’s test-firing was of a missile.

“Leader Kim Jong-un guided a test-fire of a newly developed large-caliber multiple launch guided rocket system on July 31,” said the North’s Korean Central News Agency.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s top nuclear envoy Lee Do-hoon met US counterpart Stephen Biegun on Wednesday in Bangkok on the sidelines of multilateral meetings involving the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“The two sides exchanged their analysis on recent and current situations, including one related to the North’s July 31 launches of short-range ballistic missiles, and their views on how to respond to them,” Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said in a press release.

“Both sides shared the understanding that the early resumption of working-level talks is more important than anything in this current situation and agreed to make diplomatic efforts to that end,” it added.

Harris is a former US Navy officer who was previously commander of the US Pacific Command. He also served as assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and commander of the US Pacific Fleet