SEOUL (Reuters) – The U.S. point man for North Korea will meet with South Korean officials in Seoul on Wednesday for wide-ranging talks, overshadowed by Pyongyang’s insistence that it has no intention of returning to denuclearisation negotiations any time soon.
Stephen Biegun, who led working-level negotiations with the North Koreans and now has broader responsibility as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, arrived late on Tuesday.
Talks will likely cover a range of issues, including coronavirus responses and ongoing negotiations over military cost-sharing, but North Korea is expected to dominate the agenda, Seoul officials said.
Biegun is due to meet with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young and chief nuclear negotiator Lee Do-hoon, according to the foreign ministry.
He is also likely to meet with Suh Hoon, South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s new national security advisor who, as spy chief, was instrumental in facilitating summits between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a Seoul official said.
Talks with Pyongyang have since stalled, and North Korean officials say the country has no intention to sit down with the United States.
Moon’s call for a new Trump-Kim summit and Biegun’s visit had sparked speculation of a last-ditch effort to try to revive North Korea talks ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November.
But given North Korea’s strident rejections of new talks, Biegun’s visit seemed more likely to focus on coordination between the two allies, rather than seizing some opening for diplomacy, said John Delury, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University in Seoul.
“I don’t see signals from North Korea that they are looking for engagement,” he said.
Coordination between the two long-time allies is critical now, said Duyeon Kim, a senior advisor at the International Crisis Group, a Belgium-based independent non-profit organisation.
“The allies should get on the same page about upcoming defence drills, how their working group can support inter-Korean projects while enforcing existing sanctions, and how to jointly respond if Pyongyang escalates or tests more weapons,” she said.
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