About the Author
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Update at 10:40 KST: This article was updated to include comments by the State Department.
The United States’ top diplomat on North Korea will travel to Seoul early next week to continue discussions on the denuclearization process, the U.S. State Department said Thursday.
Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun “will meet with his Republic of Korea counterparts to discuss diplomatic efforts to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization [FFVD] of North Korea as committed to by Chairman Kim in Singapore,” a statement read.
The trip, lasting from October 29-30, comes as talks between the U.S. and North Korea have slowed again, following what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called a “productive” meeting with Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang earlier this month.
Biegun traveled with Pompeo for the October 7 talks in the North Korean capital, but the two sides have been unable to set the next meeting in the weeks since.
Pompeo told Voice of America (VOA) in an interview on October 19 he hoped to meet his North Korean counterparts “in the next week and a half or so” – though it now appears this will not be the case.
That statement came amid a trip by Biegun to Moscow, Paris, and Brussels to conduct working-level talks on the denuclearization of North Korea, though it is believed that maintaining sanctions pressure was also a main topic of conversation.
This was made explicit by the State Department’s decision to send a representative to Southeast Asia to press the issue directly following the summit in Pyongyang.
In Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Christopher A. Ford emphasized the “need for full implementation” of UN sanctions.
Today’s sanctioning of a Singapore national by the U.S. for money laundering on behalf of North Koreans, too, is just the latest sign of U.S. resolve on the issue.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in was also in Europe last week – however, in contrast with the U.S. State Department’s emphasis on sanctions enforcement, it is believed that Moon was pitching a more flexible “sequencing” process to allies in the region.
Biegun’s trip to meet with his South Korean counterparts may see the two sides seek to mend what has been seen as growing daylight between the two allies over sanctions and plans by the Moon administration to speed up joint projects with the North.
Last month’s Pyongyang Declaration signed by Moon and Kim Jong Un committed the sides to progress on a number of economic projects which may still face hurdles due to sanctions.
These include connecting roads and railways, “normalizing” the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex and the Mt. Kumgang Tourism Project, a “west coast joint special economic zone, and an east coast joint special tourism zone.”
The State Department on Thursday evening declined to comment further on Biegun’s agenda next week outside of the stated talks on denuclearization, but did say there are “no plans for representative Biegun to meet with his North Korean counterparts” during the trip.
Edited by Oliver Hotham