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Hamish Macdonald is an NK News contributor and has previously worked at The Korea Herald and for the Australia Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney.
U.S. President Donald Trump is ready to formally bring an end to the Korean War, Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun said during an appearance at Stanford University on Thursday.
Speaking at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center in California, Biegun covered a vast array of U.S.-DPRK issues in a candid discussion that included the U.S. definition of denuclearization, sanctions, and a will to end to the longstanding U.S.-North Korea conflict.
“President Trump is ready to end this war, it is over, it is done, we are not going to invade North Korea, we are not seeking to topple the regime,” Biegun told the audience during the question and answer portion of his appearance.
“It’s bigger than denuclearization, while it stands on the foundation of denuclearization, but that’s the opportunity we have and those are the discussions we will be having with the North Koreans.”
While Biegun was adamant that the current context presents a unique opportunity to make progress in U.S.-North Korea bilateral relations, he also outlined with more nuance than the administration has done previously the gaps in expectations that exist between the two parties.
“So we do not have a specific and agreed definition of what final, fully verified denuclearization or comprehensive, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization – whatever your preferred term of art – is,” he said.
“We do have a well-developed view inside the United States of America on what this entails, but that’s something that over time you’ll also have to come to agreement with the North Koreans on.”
As far as the U.S. definition of denuclearization, Biegun said more than once that it would involve a comprehensive removal of all elements of North Korea’s WMD program.
“Before the process of denuclearization can be final, we must also have a complete understanding of the full extent of the North Korean weapon of mass destruction and missile programs,” he said. “We will get that, at some point, through a comprehensive declaration.”
“We must reach agreement on expert access and monitoring mechanisms of key sites to international standards. And ultimately, we need to ensure the removal and destruction of stockpiles of fissile material, weapons, missiles, launchers, and other weapons of mass destruction.”
He also said that the U.S. was willing to take parallel steps to improve relations with North Korea, but sanctions and pressure also appeared to be a key and a remaining element of their approach.
“When we say we will not lift sanctions until denuclearization is complete – that is correct – we didn’t say we won’t do anything until you do everything,” he said.
“What we’re talking about is simultaneously looking at ways to improve relations, looking at ways to advance a more stable and peaceful, and ultimately, a more legal peace regime on the Korean peninsula – how we advance denuclearization.”
Further to that end, in the question and answer session, Biegun added that the U.S. would sustain the pressure campaign that typified U.S. policy in 2017 but that the administration would “have to find the right balance between those two.”
Earlier in the prepared remarks, Biegun touched on this point in response to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s call for the U.S. to make “corresponding measures” to DPRK steps towards denuclearization.
“From our side, we are prepared to discuss many actions that could help build trust between our two countries and advance further progress in parallel on the Singapore summit objectives of transforming relations, establishing a permanent peace regime on the peninsula, and complete denuclearization,” he said.
While seeking to advance trust and sustainable peace, Biegun also said that the U.S. was also prepared for a scenario where talks did not work out.
“We need to have contingencies if the diplomatic process fails, which we do,” he said.
The Special Representative is now set to visit South Korea on Sunday, in which he is expected to hold talks with ROK government counterpart Lee Do-hoon as well as North Korean officials.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Kevin Lim / Straits Times