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North Korea nuclear crisis

US says special envoy’s Asia trip shows progress toward revival of North Korea denuclearisation talks

State Department quotes Stephen Biegun, meeting with counterparts in South Korea, as saying negotiations remain a ‘tremendous opportunity’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 September, 2018, 6:53am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 September, 2018, 5:23pm

Trying to demonstrate that talks to denuclearise the Korean peninsula are continuing, the US State Department briefed reporters on Tuesday on the travels of the newly appointed US special representative for North Korea.

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert quoted Stephen Biegun, who was appointed on August 23, as saying that the denuclearisation negotiations would be “hard work” but remained a “tremendous opportunity”.

“We need to do everything we can to make the most of this moment,” Nauert quoted Biegun as saying. “The beginning half is done. This is just the beginning, so what we need to do is finish the job.”

Biegun made those comments at the outset of talks with South Korea’s top nuclear envoy Lee Do-hoon in Seoul, according to the South Korean Yonhap news agency.

Beigun’s trip was the first official trip to the region by a US representative since US President Donald Trump scrapped a planned journey last month by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to North Korea, reportedly dissatisfied by the lack of progress North Korea had shown in steps towards denuclearisation.

Nauert confirmed that Biegun had left South Korea and was now in Beijing, though she would not identify whom he was meeting with there.

The trip, which runs through Saturday, will also include a stop in Japan this week “to have conversations with our partners and allies in the region about this very topic”, Nauert said.

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Nauert also confirmed that the State Department had received a letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last week and that US President Donald Trump “has obviously been briefed on that letter”.

Nauert declined to discuss the conversations Trump, Pompeo and the US national security team had about the letter.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Monday that Trump had received a “very warm, very positive” letter from Kim asking for a second meeting and that the White House is looking at scheduling one.

Sanders told reporters the letter showed “a continued commitment to focus on denuclearisation of the peninsula”.

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Biegun’s trip also comes ahead of a third meeting this year between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in; the meetings, September 18 through 20, will be held for the first time in Pyongyang.

Moon and Trump spoke on September 4 to discuss the agenda of the Moon-Kim meetings.

After Sanders’ comment on the possibility of a second Trump-Kim summit, Moon on Tuesday urged that Kim and Trump make a “bold decision” on denuclearisation.

"The complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula is an issue that should fundamentally be resolved between the US and North Korea through negotiation,” Moon was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying at a cabinet meeting.

"But until talks and communication between the North and the US become more active, we cannot but work to mediate between them,” he said, adding: "President Trump and Chairman Kim have asked that I play this role.”