The U.S.’s top diplomat dealing with North Korean affairs will arrive in Seoul for a three-day visit on Sunday, South Korea’s foreign ministry said Friday, in a visit which comes amid growing tensions on the peninsula and just weeks before Pyongyang’s self-declared end-of-year deadline for progress in diplomacy expires.
Stephen Biegun will meet with local counterpart Lee Do-hoon — as well as other top officials — the day after his arrival, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said.
“The two sides will exchange extensive views on the recent situation on the Korean peninsula and discuss ways to bring substantial progress on achieving a complete denuclearization and enduring peace,” the MFA said in a statement carried by multiple outlets.
Biegun’s visit has been rumored to be in the works for over a week, and is expected to see U.S. and South Korean officials make a final attempt to restart DPRK-U.S. diplomacy, in a state of paralysis since working-level negotiations in Stockholm in October fell apart.
South Korean media have reported, citing unnamed sources, that he will also attempt to meet with North Korean counterparts at Panmungak, though no such meeting has been officially confirmed.
It follows weeks of rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, as Pyongyang has sought to build pressure on Washington ahead of the new year.
Following what North Korea described as a “very important” test at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday stated that Kim Jong Un had “everything to lose” should he not keep his promise to denuclearize.
They have also appeared to rule out any further negotiations on the nuclear issue, with the country’s ambassador to the UN over the weekend insisting that the issue of denuclearization is now off the table in any future talks between the two countries.
In an additional statement on Thursday, a spokesperson for the country’s foreign ministry condemned a recent United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting regarding its recent spate of missile testing,
“The U.S. talks about dialogue, whenever it opens its mouth, but it is very evident that the U.S. has nothing to present before us though dialogue may open,” the official said.
Biegun and other U.S. diplomats have, however, suggested that there remains an opening for the two countries to come to some kind of agreement.
Speaking before a hearing at the U.S. Senate late last month, Biegun told lawmakers that the “window is still open” for the U.S. and North Korea to strike a deal.
One expert, however, cast doubt on prospects for a resumption of dialogue at such a late stage.
“North Korean state media signaling, most recently yesterday’s foreign ministry pronouncement on the UNSC meeting, suggests that the North will maintain a hard line, and that a breakthrough is unlikely during Biegun’s visit,” Minyoung Lee, a senior analyst with NK News‘s sister site NK Pro, said.
Edited by James Fretwell
Featured image: State Department Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs