Wednesday, February 19, 2020 | ePaper

US ready to resume nuclear talks with North Korea

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US special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun, left, pose with his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon during their meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea on Wednesday.

AFP, Seoul :
 The United States is ready to sit down with North Korea to resume long-awaited working-level nuclear talks, a US envoy said on Wednesday.
Nuclear discussions between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since a second summit in Hanoi in February ended without an agreement over differences on the extent of denuclearisation and a sanctions relief in return.
But anticipation for renewed dialogue has been on the rise after the US and its security ally South Korea wrapped up their two-week joint military drill on Tuesday.
"We are prepared to engage as soon as we hear from our counterparts in North Korea," said Stephen Biegun, the US special representative for North Korea, after his meeting with South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon in Seoul.
The comments come amid speculation that Americans could meet with North Koreans at the demilitarised zone dividing the North and South to kick start working-level talks during Biegun's three-day stay in Seoul, which began Tuesday.
The US envoy denied media reports he would soon take a diplomatic posting in Russia, saying he remained "focused on making progress" with North Koreans and "fully committed" to the goal of the denuclearisation in the North.
Pyongyang considers the joint military exercise by the allies a rehearsal for invasion and has routinely expressed anger at the war games.
It called South Korean President Moon Jae-in last week an "impudent guy rare to be found" for hoping to resume inter-Korean talks while continuing military drills with the US.
Washington stations nearly 30,000 troops in the South to defend it from its neighbour.
US President Donald Trump tweeted earlier this month North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed his hope - in a letter hand-delivered to him - for resuming dialogue "as soon as the joint U.S./South Korea joint exercise are over".
Stephen Biegun made the comments Wednesday, a day after the U.S. and South Korea ended their regular military exercises that North Korea calls an invasion rehearsal. During the training, North Korea raised tensions with its own missile and other weapons tests.
Biegun told reporters in Seoul that "we are prepared to engage as soon as we hear from our counterparts in North Korea."
Negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang collapsed after a second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam in February ended without any agreement.
Trump and Kim met again at the Korean border in late June and agreed to resume negotiations.
Asked about the missile tests, Trump told reporters, "I have no problem. These are short-range missiles."
Trump called the missiles "smaller ones."  He said earlier this month that Kim had sent him "a really beautiful letter" that included a "small apology" for conducting the missile tests.
The U.S. leader has held out hope that he can bring about Pyongyang's denuclearization by the time his first term in the White House ends in January 2021.
Pompeo acknowledged in the CBS interview, however, that the United States and North Korea "haven't gotten back to the table as quickly as we would have hoped" to continue the nuclear weapons talks.
Pompeo said the U.S. knew "there will be bumps along the way" in the negotiations.
"We hope Chairman Kim will come to the table and a get a better outcome" than by maintaining North Korea's nuclear arsenal, he said.
"It will be better for the North Korean people," Pompeo concluded. "It'll be better for the world."

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