Update at 1800 KST: The article has been amended to include further updates on Kim Hyok Chol’s travel.
U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun is on his way to Vietnam for talks expected to finalize preparations for next week’s U.S.-DPRK summit, the State Department said in a statement on Tuesday evening.
While no further details of his itinerary were given, Biegun is likely to meet with his North Korean counterpart Kim Hyok Chol in the coming days.
The talks will be the most high-level DPRK-U.S. meetings since a three-day trip by Biegun to Pyongyang between February 6 and 8.
Following that meeting, the two sides agreed to hold another meeting ahead of next week’s summit.
“Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun is traveling to Hanoi today in preparation for the President’s second summit with DPRK Chairman Kim Jong Un February 27-28,” the State Department said Tuesday.
News of Biegun’s visit comes as officials from both the DPRK and the U.S. flood into the Vietnamese capital to finalize planning for the summit – now just a week away.
Kim, who serves as DPRK Special Representative for U.S. Affairs of the State Affairs Commission (SAC), departed from Beijing to Vietnam on Wednesday afternoon, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
Photos released this afternoon showed him accompanied by Kim Song Hye, head of the department of united front strategy at the United Front Department (UFD) of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), and Choe Kang Il – believed to serve as acting deputy director general at the North America Department.
Several of their colleagues are already in Hanoi: Director of department at the SAC and Kim Jong Un’s chief secretary Kim Chang Son reportedly arrived in Hanoi on Saturday.
Pak Chol – another high-level U.S.-DPRK negotiator – has also been spotted in Vietnam this week.
Talks between U.S. and North Korean officials in the coming days are expected to see the two sides begin to flesh out details of a planned joint statement to be signed by DPRK leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump when they conclude their summit next Thursday.
Observers expect the statement to feature some kind of trade-off between Pyongyang and Washington – likely the decommissioning of North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear testing site and other facilities in exchange for sanctions relief.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in was on Tuesday reported to have held talks over the phone with President Trump, in which Seoul offered to “play a role in offering corresponding measures to facilitate the North’s denuclearization.”
“[Moon] said [South] Korea is ready to take such responsibility – from reconnection of railways between the two Koreas to inter-Korean economic cooperation projects – if Trump asks,” the ROK President was quoted as having said in a statement from the Blue House.
“He also expressed his expectations that the North-U.S. summit would serve as a significant turning point to materialize complete denuclearization, peace regime on the peninsula and development in U.S.-North Korea relations,” the statement added.
President Trump for his part on Tuesday expressed notably less ambitious expectations for his upcoming summit, telling reporters in the Oval Office he has “no pressing time schedule” for North Korean denuclearization.
“I’m in no rush,” the President said, in comments carried by Politico. “As long as there’s no testing, I’m in no rush. If there’s testing, that’s another deal. But there has been no testing.”
Edited by Colin Zwirko
Featured image: State Department EAP Bureau