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Jacob Fromer is NK News's Washington DC correspondent. He previously worked in the U.S. Senate.
The U.S. and South Korean envoys in nuclear talks with North Korea will meet in Washington this week, South Korea’s MBC News reported on Tuesday.
The two diplomats — Stephen Biegun and Lee Do-hoon — will likely discuss the current state of diplomacy with the DPRK. Biegun is also the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, the number-two position in the department.
The meeting is set to take place amid a long diplomatic stalemate between Pyongyang and both Washington and Seoul, coming just days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared that his country would never buckle under the pressure of international sanctions.
The report also comes as the Trump administration continues to assert that Kim Jong Un has vowed to abandon his nuclear weapons — an “outstanding commitment,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday — even as Kim told party leaders earlier this month that the DPRK is working on a new “strategic weapon.”
North Korea has insisted that the country will not budge without a change in the U.S.’s “hostile policy.”
In an interview on Fox News on Monday, Pompeo continued to push the narrative that Kim Jong Un had promised President Donald Trump that he would denuclearize North Korea, despite a lack of evidence that Kim has ever made such a direct promise.
It was the latest comment from a top Trump administration official, including the President himself, making that claim (Trump recently said Kim had signed a “contract”).
The remark was likely a reference to the Singapore Agreement, a document that Trump and Kim signed during their historic first meeting in 2018 in which the two leaders made a vague commitment to rid the entire Korean peninsula, ostensibly including the U.S. military in South Korea, of all nuclear weapons.
In response to a question about North Korea possibly resuming long-range missile tests this year — a sign of the current state of relations between Washington and Pyongyang — Pompeo stuck to the administration’s script.
“[Kim] still has an outstanding commitment to President Trump,” Pompeo said. “He made a commitment that he would denuclearize. He has not walked back that commitment.”
“We have every hope and expectation that he’ll do so, and that we’ll resolve the nuclear file in North Korea peacefully and we’ll make a better, brighter future for the North Korean people as well,” he added. “We hope that that’s the case.”
Lee Do-hoon is not the only South Korean official traveling to the U.S. this week.
On Monday, South Korea’s top negotiator in defense cost-sharing talks with the U.S., Jeong Eun-bo, arrived in Washington for a new round of talks with the Trump administration over the issue known as “burden sharing.”
The two allies have been unable to come to an agreement on the question of how much money the South should have to pay for the U.S. troop presence on the peninsula.
The Trump administration has reportedly insisted on a fivefold increase in Seoul’s payments.
That dispute, said Evans Revere, a former Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, has added unneeded stress to the Washington-Seoul relationship.
“It has undermined alliance solidarity and manifested a significant gap between the U.S. and the ROK at a sensitive time,” Revere told NK News.
The State Department did not respond to questions from NK News about its ongoing negotiations with Seoul or Pyongyang.
According to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, Jeong told reporters after arriving at Dulles International Airport that the two countries are still “apart” but are “in the process of narrowing our differences on various issues.”
The South Korean foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, also flew to the U.S. on Monday, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
She is expected to meet Secretary of State Pompeo in California on Tuesday.
According to Yonhap, the two will likely discuss North Korea negotiations, as well as the possibility of Seoul sending troops to join the U.S. in patrols of the Strait of Hormuz, near Iran.
Edited by James Fretwell