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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
North Korea and the U.S. are likely to resume working-level negotiations “soon,” the South Korean second deputy director of the presidential National Security Office (NSO) said on Thursday.
Kim Hyun-chong’s remarks followed an over-hour-long meeting with U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun in Seoul.
“My impression is that the dialogue between North Korea and the U.S. will begin soon, and I have a feeling that it will go well,” Kim said in an impromptu and televised press briefing following the meeting with Biegun.
When asked about the basis of his prediction, he said he could not reveal exact details.
“But I expect that it will take place soon,” Kim said, without addressing whether nuclear negotiations will resume before the second session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), to be held on August 29.
Seoul’s upbeat assessment came a day after Biegun said that the Trump administration is ready to resume now-stalled working-level negotiations with the North, following a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon on Wednesday.
“We are prepared to engage as soon as we hear from our counterparts in North Korea,” the U.S. Special Representative said.
The U.S. State Department on Wednesday stated that they did not have “any additional meetings or stops to announce for Mr. Biegun” when asked if he would hold a working-level meeting with the North Korean team.
Biegun was originally set to wrap up his three-day visit later on Thursday, after his meetings with special representative Lee and South Korean unification minister Kim Yeon-chul the previous day.
But local South Korean outlets, including Yonhap News Agency, on Thursday reported that Biegun has extended his stay in Seoul by one day, fueling speculation that he may meet with North Korean counterparts.
Speaking at the Thursday press conference, Kim said he accepted the U.S. request to hold a meeting because he had a “message to convey to representative Biegun.”
Seoul’s message was that both countries need to work together “very closely” in handling the denuclearization issue.
He also repeatedly highlighted the U.S.’s trust in Lee, who serves as Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).
“There has been close cooperation between the ROK and the U.S. in terms of dialogue and the nuclear negotiation process,” Kim said.
“Everything will be shared” between Seoul and Washington, Kim said, due to Biegun and Lee’s mutual trust.
The second deputy director also expressed the U.S.’s stance on the South Korean government’s response to recent criticism from the North.
“The U.S. side highly appreciates our restrained [response] to North Korea’s continuous criticisms,” Kim said.
Kim continued that Washington also thinks “very” highly of Seoul for restraining itself to “achieve a constructive goal.”
North Korean media has in the last few weeks repeatedly denounced the South for staging the joint drills with the U.S. and deploying military equipment, including F-35A stealth fighter jets, rejecting the potential for inter-Korean dialogue.
In a press statement issued by a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) earlier on Thursday, Pyongyang said it has no interest in proceeding with dialogue as long as military threats by the U.S. and the South continue.
The North Korean party daily on Wednesday also said the hostile measures taken by the U.S. drove the country to “develop, test, and deploy the powerful physical means essential for national defense” in its commentary.
The South Korean second deputy director, however, did not answer when asked why he believes the dialogue between the North and the U.S. will resume regardless of Pyongyang’s continuous diatribes.
Lee on Wednesday said now is the “critical time to make efforts to resume working-level negotiations” which were agreed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump on June 30.
He continued that Biegun’s visit was made “at an important time in a timely manner,” adding that he and Biegun discussed how to “resume dialogue swiftly and make substantive progress.”
That meeting took place after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday admitted to the delay in working-level nuclear negotiations after Kim and Trump agreed to resume dialogue.
Edited by James Fretwell and Oliver Hotham
Featured image: KCNA