Washington Considers Opening Liaison Office in North Korea

Washington is considering opening a liaison office in North Korea, in what would be another potential step toward normalizing relations while the two sides negotiate to curtail Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile forces, Wall Street Journal reported.

The proposal comes as President Donald Trump prepares to meet later this month in Hanoi, Vietnam, with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The plan would allow North Korea to also open an office in the U.S., the official said, but it wasn’t immediately clear how strongly North Korea supported the idea.

Trump has repeatedly boasted of the warm relationship he has established with Kim. But there has been little progress since the two leaders met in Singapore in June and pledged to improve ties and “work toward” denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, the Journal notes.

While North Korea has suspended nuclear tests and missiles launches since 2017, the two sides still appear to be far apart on the pace of denuclearization and what concessions the Trump administration might give in return.

The priority for North Korea is persuading the U.S. to ease economic sanctions, which have damaged the North Korean economy. For some former officials, the opening of liaison offices might be a way to improve ties without reducing the economic pressure the Trump administration wants to maintain on North Korea until it gives up its nuclear and missile arsenals.

“Partly, it is a symbolic gesture to demonstrate our relations have improved,” said Gary Samore, who served as senior National Security Agency official on weapons of mass destruction during the Obama administration. “As a practical matter, it is a good idea because if we sent in inspectors they would need a base of operations.”

Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, said in a speech last month that the formal lifting of sanctions wouldn’t come until North Korea rids itself of nuclear weapons.

At the same time, Biegun indicated the U.S. could take steps as North Korea begins to dismantle its nuclear and missile arsenals, though he didn’t spell out what they might be.

The Trump administration official said that the liaison office idea, which appears to be just one element of a package of negotiating proposals, might be discussed further when Biegun meets in Hanoi with his North Korean counterpart prior to the summit.

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