U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, left, is greeted by his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon during their meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Biegun is in Seoul to hold talks with South Korean officials about allied cooperation on issues including North Korea. (Kim Hong-ji/Pool Photo via AP)

US envoy meets officials in Seoul as Kim honors grandfather

July 08, 2020 - 12:42 am

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — President Donald Trump’s point man to North Korea met with South Korean officials on Wednesday for discussions on stalled nuclear diplomacy amid the North’s repeated claims that it has no immediate intent to resume dialogue with the United States.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun’s meetings in Seoul came hours after the North’s state media reported that leader Kim Jong Un visited a mausoleum in Pyongyang to pay tribute to his late grandfather and state founder Kim Il Sung on the anniversary of his death.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency didn’t mention any comments by Kim on the status of U.S. talks, which have faltered over disagreements in exchanging sanctions relief and disarmament.

Speaking to reporters after his meeting with South Korean nuclear envoy Lee Do-hoon, Biegun said the allies remain committed to a diplomatic approach in eliminating the North’s nuclear weapons and creating a “more durable peace on the Korean Peninsula." He didn’t provide specific answers on what was discussed.

Biegun, who also met with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, said the United States did not request any meetings with the North Koreans during his trip to the South.

His visit came days after North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Sun Hui, whom Biegun has described as his potential counterpart when talks resume, issued a statement saying the North won’t resume negotiations unless Washington discards what it describes as “hostile” policies.

“I want to be very clear on one point. I do not take direction from (North Korean) Vice Minister Choe Son Hui,” Biegun said.

“I take my guidance from the conclusions of the several meetings from President Trump and Chairman Kim have had over the last two years ... Focus on creating more durable peace on the Korean Peninsula, transform the relations on the Korean Peninsula, elimination of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and brighter future for the Korean people.”

Trump and Kim have met three times since 2018 but those negotiations fell apart since their second summit in February last year in Vietnam. North Korea has repeatedly said in recent months that it would no longer give Trump the gift of high-profile meetings he could boast of as foreign policy achievements unless it gets something substantial in return.

North Korea has also been dialing up pressure on the South, cutting off virtually all cooperation and blowing up an inter-Korean liaison office in its territory last month. It followed months of frustration over Seoul’s unwillingness to defy U.S.-led sanctions and restart joint economic projects that would help the North’s broken economy.

Some analysts believe North Korea will avoid serious talks with the Americans for now and instead focus on pressuring the South in a bid to increase its bargaining power before an eventual return to negotiations after the U.S. presidential election in November. They say North Korea likely doesn’t want to make any major commitments or concessions when there is a chance U.S. leadership could change.

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