North Korea

US, South Korea ‘closely coordinating’ on breaking nuclear talks stalemate, Mike Pompeo says

  • Stephen Biegun, the US’s special representative for North Korea, met South Korea’s Lee Do-hoon at the State Department, the US state secretary said
  • The diplomats focused on ‘sustained implementation of UN sanctions’
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2018, 4:37am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2018, 5:29am

Top US and South Korean diplomats met at the US State Department on Tuesday to coordinate efforts to jump-start Washington’s stalled nuclear talks with Pyongyang.

Stephen Biegun, the US’ special representative for North Korea, hosted his South Korean counterpart, Lee Do-hoon, the Republic of Korea’s special representative for Korean peninsula peace and security affairs, in Washington.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that the meeting aimed to “further strengthen our close coordination on achieving our shared goal – the final, fully verified denuclearisation as agreed to by Chairman Kim [Jong-un]”.

The diplomats were “discussing ongoing diplomatic efforts, sustained implementation of UN sanctions and inter-Korean cooperation,” Pompeo said during a press conference at the State Department.

The working-level talks came days after North Korea claimed it had successfully tested a “hi-tech tactical” weapon and announced it would release a US citizen who had been detained since October for illegally entering the country.

The mixed message was viewed by Biegun’s predecessor, Joseph Yun, as both “a good sign” and a tough signal that Pyongyang “can go either way”, Yun told the South China Morning Post last week.

Harry Kazianis, director of defence studies at the Centre for the National Interest, a Washington-based think tank, said the meeting was needed to find “the most viable path forward to keep the hard-won detente on the Korean peninsula moving forward”.

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“At present, negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang are at a standstill – and both sides deserve some blame,” Kazianis said.

He said the US’s current position – demanding the full removal of nuclear weapons from North Korea before any type of sanctions relief can be forthcoming – is likely to torpedo any talks and could lead back to the days of “fire and fury”, a reference to US President Donald Trump’s threat last year to strike North Korea if it endangered the US.

US ‘confident’ in Kim’s word despite North Korea’s new weapons testing

By contrast, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is taking the opposite stance, by insisting on sanctions relief and perhaps a peace declaration before making any big disarmament moves.

“The big question that Washington and Steve Biegun must answer is simple: Will America make the first move or not? Will they risk the collapse of talks or not?” Kazianis said.