U.S. envoy Stephen Biegun travels to Pyongyang Wednesday to meet his North Korean counterpart, where he will try to advance a plan to reinvigorate denuclearization talks ahead of a new summit, Washington Post reported.
President Donald Trump gets credit from many North Korean experts for opening a dialogue with Kim Jong-un after years of drift under his predecessor Barack Obama that saw North Korea build up its nuclear and missile program. However, Trump has been criticized for failing to elicit any firm commitment from the North Korean leader to begin the process of denuclearization when they met for the first time in Singapore last June.
Since his appointment in August as special representative for North Korea, Biegun has played a central role in trying to put substance around what the United States wants and how it wants to achieve it.
Initially frozen out by the North Koreans, Biegun accompanied Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet Kim Jong-un last October, and met his newly appointed counterpart, Kim Hyok Chol, in Washington last month for what he called an “extended working-level discussion” that was “productive, focused, results-oriented,” the Post adds.
Biegun was initially expected to meet Kim Hyok Chol in the Korean border village of Panmunjom for a second time on Tuesday, but the fact that he has been invited to Pyongyang suggests the North Koreans are taking him more seriously, experts said.
Last Thursday, Biegun set out for the first time in a speech at Stanford University how he hopes to move the denuclearization process forward, taking what several experts described as a more flexible and realistic approach than the administration has adopted thus far.
The envoy pointed out that the United States hopes to move “simultaneously and in parallel” with the North Koreans in implementing the pledges their two leaders made in Singapore, including denuclearization, transforming their relations and building lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.
According to the Guardian, Pyongyang is trying to ensure its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities are safe from U.S. military strikes, a UN report has said, as officials from both countries prepared to meet to discuss a second summit between Trump and Kim.
Trump is expected to meet the North Korean leader, possibly in Vietnam, at the end of the month to discuss measures that would lead to Pyongyang giving up its nuclear weapons in return for U.S. security guarantees and other assurances.
In the confidential report, recently submitted to UN security council members, sanctions monitors said they had “found evidence of a consistent trend on the part of [North Korea] to disperse its assembly, storage and testing locations.”
It said the North was “using civilian facilities, including airports, for ballistic missile assembly and testing with the goal of effectively preventing ‘decapitation’ strikes’ on a smaller number of identified nuclear and missile assembly and manufacturing sites.”