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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The U.S. is ready to engage in dialogue with Pyongyang to make “simultaneous and in parallel” progress towards the goals agreed to by the two countries’ leaders at their first summit last year, the U.S.’s Special Representative for North Korea said Friday.
In comments released by South Korea’s foreign ministry following a meeting between Stephen Biegun and his local counterpart Lee Do-hoon in Seoul, the top U.S. envoy stressed Washington is “ready to hold constructive discussions with North Korea.”
During that meeting, Biegun reportedly reaffirmed that the U.S. is prepared “to make progress simultaneously and in parallel toward the fulfillment of the commitments” of the joint statement signed at the first DPRK-U.S. summit in Singapore.
The comments echo those made by the U.S. Special Representative ahead of February’s no-deal Hanoi DPRK-U.S. summit at Stanford University, in which he appeared to proposed a more incremental approach to North Korea’s denuclearization.
The U.S., Biegun said at the time, was “prepared to pursue – simultaneously and in parallel – all of the commitments” under the Singapore agreement.
But Washington was widely seen to have shifted to a more hardline position at the Hanoi summit just a month later, which the two countries concluded empty-handed amid disagreement over sanctions.
This is not the first time the Trump administration has expressed its support for a more phased approach in recent months, however.
Following comments by a DPRK foreign ministry spokesperson warning that talks would not resume unless the U.S. abandoned its “current logic,” the State Department stressed last month that Washington was willing to “make progress simultaneously and in parallel.”
Friday’s talks between Lee Do-hoon, who serves as Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs, and the U.S. chief envoy comes just a week after the two met in Washington DC.
Following the Friday meeting, Lee was reported to have said he believed a “positive atmosphere” for diplomacy had been created following an exchange of letters between the North Korean and the U.S. leaders and a recent Sino-DPRK summit in Pyongyang.
Seoul hopes, Lee continued, to “increase the momentum for dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea and resume talks expeditiously” in order to push ahead with the implementation of the two inter-Korean declarations signed in last year.
The meeting between the chief nuclear envoys comes a day before President Donald Trump and aides including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are set to begin a two-day visit to Seoul.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in is set to meet President Trump on Sunday for what will be the two leaders’ eighth summit.
The Blue House has said it expects the meeting to feature “in-depth discussions on how to work closely together to establish permanent peace through the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula while further strengthening the ROK-U.S. alliance.”
South Korea’s foreign ministry on Friday quoted Biegun as having said he expects the upcoming ROK-U.S. summit to “serve as an important opportunity for peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula.”
In return, Lee said the two countries would use the summit to “reaffirm their will to achieve complete denuclearization and establish permanent peace on the Korean peninsula and create favorable conditions to that end.”
In opening remarks, the chief South Korean envoy said Friday’s meeting was timely for two reasons.
“First, President Trump will arrive in Seoul tomorrow and we can work together and get prepared to help our leaders ensure the success of the summit,” he said, in comments carried by Yonhap News Agency.
“Second, we have witnessed a lot of diplomatic interactions and activities on and around the Korean peninsula recently, and we can discuss ways and means how to translate them into substantive progress on denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula,” he added.
The ROK-U.S. summit and Biegun’s trip comes as Pyongyang has ramped up pressure on both the U.S. and South Korea through a series of articles in externally-focused state media outlets.
In a statement issued under the name of foreign ministry official Kwon Jong Gun, the North on Thursday warned the U.S. against underestimating Pyongyang’s “empty talk” and dismissed Seoul’s attempts to play the role of mediator in nuclear negotiations.
Just a day earlier, a spokesperson for the DPRK foreign ministry stressed that progress in bilateral ties and on denuclearization would stall “as long as American politics is dominated by policy-makers who have an inveterate antagonism towards the DPRK.”
Meanwhile, Special Representative Biegun also on Friday held a meeting with South Korean Minister of Unification Kim Yeon-chul.
The meeting, the first between the two since May, reportedly saw them discuss “North Korea’s humanitarian situation, denuclearization, and the peace process on the Korean peninsula.”
The U.S. Special Representative is scheduled to depart South Korea on Sunday.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs