U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun on Wednesday said Washington is still open to negotiations with the DPRK, adding he hoped talks with Pyongyang would resume soon.
Speaking at the 2019 Atlantic Council-East Asia Foundation Strategic Dialogue, the U.S. point man on the DPRK reiterated that Washington wanted to see North Korea take a significant step towards denuclearization.
“The door is wide open to negotiations and … we expect and hope that in the not too distant future we will be re-engaged in this process in a substantive way,” Biegun said.
“We can’t make progress without meaningful and verifiable steps on denuclearization. It’s absolutely the core of this, it’s what produced this moment to begin with.”
The U.S. diplomat also said that Washington was prepared “to embrace all the full set of initiatives that our two leaders committed to,” at the Singapore summit last year, though added they all need be discussed.
Biegun’s positive tone contrasts with statements from North Korea, with the DPRK’s state-run media output often returning to more critical rhetoric in recent months and weeks.
Neither side has been able to make much diplomatic progress since the last meeting between DPRK leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump fell apart in Hanoi in February.
Washington and Pyongyang clashed over which North Korean nuclear and weapons sites should be on the table, while North Korea wanted relief from the UN’s economic sanctions passed since the start of 2016.
Biegun confirmed on Wednesday that there had been little diplomatic movement since the Hanoi summit, saying there had been no working-level talks in the intervening months, though adding there had been some communications.
“It is no secret that since Hanoi, the U.S. – North Korean diplomacy has been in something of a holding pattern,” Biegun said, but added that the last week has seen an “uptick in activity,” citing Kim’s letter to Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s upcoming visit to the Pyongyang.
“While we and the North Koreans have yet to resume our negotiations at the working level since the Hanoi summit, there have been numerous communications between our two governments. Publicly and privately, directly and through third parties.”
But Washington’s Special Representative for North Korea also indicated that there is plenty of work ahead, as the two sides still do not have an agreed definition for “denuclearization”.
“We do consider that a very important starting point: We will never get to our destination if we don’t know where we are going,” Biegun said.
During the same event, Biegun’s South Korean counterpart Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Lee Do-hoon called on Pyongyang to accept Seoul’s offer of a fourth summit.
“I urge North Korea to respond to President Moon’s outstanding invitation to hold an inter-Korea summit, if possible, before President Trump visits Korea next week,” Lee said.
U.S. President Donald Trump will attend the G20 in Osaka on June 28, where he will meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping and is also scheduled to visit South Korea following the international forum.