U.S. Special Representative on North Korea Stephen Biegun arrive in South Korea for an official visit from Thursday, the U.S. State Department announced on Monday, in a trip set to overlap with a planned ROK-U.S. summit in Seoul later in the week.
Biegun is set to stay in South Korea until Sunday, the State Department said, and will “meet with Republic of Korea officials before joining Secretary Pompeo for the Presidents visit to Seoul.”
President Trump is set to meet with South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in on Sunday, in the two leaders’ first meeting since April.
The summit, which follows meetings between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Pyongyang last week, will see the two Presidents hold talks on “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” among other issues.
It also comes on the heels of North Korean reports on Sunday that Kim Jong Un had received what the country’s state media described as an “excellent” letter from the U.S. President.
The DPRK leader was reported to have said he would “seriously contemplate the interesting content” of the note, praising the U.S. President’s “political judgment and extraordinary courage.”
Trump on Monday told reporters he and Kim had exchanged “very friendly” letters in the past few weeks, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo having the previous day said that the U.S. was willing to restart talks with North Korea “at a moment’s notice.”
Washington and Pyongyang are “in a better place” now compared to February after both sides walked away from the negotiation table in the Vietnamese capital, he said.
The U.S. President is set to arrive in South Korea on Saturday following a meeting of the G20 in Osaka, Japan, and will reportedly be joined by, among others, National Security Advisor John Bolton.
The high-profile delegation, as well as reports of a planned visit to the DMZ by President Trump during his visit, has prompted widespread speculation that a snap U.S.-DPRK summit could take place over the weekend.
Biegun’s early visit, too, could offer room for working-level talks with North Korean counterparts at Panmunjom.
The State Department declined to comment on that possibility when contacted by NK News, however, and a White House official was reported to have said that there were “no plans” for a snap Kim-Trump meeting.
But given the background, one expert said, “it’s reasonable to wonder if the U.S. side has proposed to use Trump’s visit to South Korea as a basis for restarting diplomacy in some way.”
“It may well be that a DMZ summit is in play and Washington is sending a high-level delegation in case that happens,” said Mintaro Oba, a former East Asia Desk officer with the U.S. State Department and a contributing analyst to NK News‘s sister site NK Pro.
“But there are no indications that convincingly suggest to me that will happen — just some early smoke signals.”
Featured image: State Department