U.S. North Korea Envoy Warns of Gap in Nuclear Talks Before Summit

The U.S. envoy to North Korean nuclear talks said it would be hard to resolve remaining disputes before President Donald Trump’s upcoming summit with Kim Jong-un, according to a South Korean lawmaker, in a sign that Washington may be playing down expectations for the talks, Bloomberg reported.

Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun told visiting South Korean legislators that nuclear negotiations would likely stretch beyond the summit planned for Feb. 27-28 in Hanoi, lawmaker Baek Seung-joo said.

Biegun, who was in Pyongyang last week, blamed North Korea for dragging out talks since Trump’s historic summit with Kim in Singapore last June, Baek said by phone from Washington.

“He told North Korea that wasting six months was a big mistake that cannot be justified,” Baek, a former deputy defense minister, said Wednesday. “It is difficult to resolve all the tricky issues within two weeks and negotiations will have to continue after the summit.”

The State Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Biegun and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo have repeatedly said that talks with North Korea are part of a long-term process.

The lawmaker’s summary, which mirrored reports by the Yonhap News Agency and other South Korean media, provides a sober assessment of U.S. efforts to reduce North Korea’s nuclear threat. The account contrasts with Trump’s own repeated claims of progress since announcing plans last month for a second summit with Kim.

While Kim agreed to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” during his first summit with Trump, the deal was criticized for failing to commit North Korea to a timetable or disarmament plan. Eight months later, the country has made no commitments to allow weapons inspections or dismantle its growing arsenal of warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Last month, Biegun said that North Korea had committed “to the dismantlement and destruction” of all its uranium- and plutonium-enrichment facilities in talks with both Pompeo and South Korean leaders.

Biegun told the South Korean lawmakers Monday that the talks had been “constructive” and conducted in a good atmosphere, according to Baek. The two sides shared their views on 12 topics, which the envoy didn’t detail, Bloomberg adds.

The U.S. envoy also told the delegation there was a chance the two sides could agree on a denuclearization timeline, Yonhap reported, without saying how it got the information. The two parties planned to draft a joint statement and narrow down their differences during the next round of working-level negotiations, the DongA Ilbo newspaper reported.

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