Biegun’s Seoul visit raises expectations for resumption of working-level nuclear talks

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In this file photo, U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun waits for South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump before an expanded meeting at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (Kim Hong-Ji/Pool Photo via AP)
In this file photo, U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun waits for South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump before an expanded meeting at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (Kim Hong-Ji/Pool Photo via AP)

SEOUL (The Korea Herald/ANN) — A visit to South Korea by the U.S. special envoy for North Korea this week has sparked speculation that he may meet Pyongyang’s officials to resume stalled denuclearization talks at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom.

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun will travel to Seoul from Tuesday to Thursday just after joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises wrap up Tuesday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has expressed willingness to restart denuclearization talks with the U.S. after the exercises end, according to U.S. President Donald Trump, who said Aug. 9 that he had received a letter from Kim conveying such a wish.

“There’s a possibility that Beigun may come in contact with the North, given that he has not many issues to discuss with the South at the moment,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University.

By exchanging letters, Trump and Kim have created a mood for talks and they could have prepared for working-level meetings to resume, as pledged during their meeting at Panmunjom on June 30, Koh added.

A day before the Trump-Kim meeting in June, Biegun met Kwon Jong-gun, head of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s North America department, to arrange the talks.

The U.S. State Department said the purpose of the envoy’s latest trip is “to further strengthen coordination on the final, fully verified denuclearization” of North Korea but it did not announce any planned meeting with North Korea.

On Aug. 7, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was hopeful the U.S. and North Korea would return to the negotiating table in the coming weeks.

During his three-day visit, Beigun will meet his South Korean counterpart, Lee Do-hoon, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs.

The Foreign Ministry said the two envoys will discuss ways to promote cooperation to ensure that the swift resumption of working-level talks between the U.S. and North Korea will lead to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and real progress for establishing permanent peace.

In the letter to Trump, the North Korean leader said the regime would stop conducting missile tests when Seoul and Washington finish their late-summer drills, which mostly comprise computerized command-post exercises.

On Friday, North Korea fired two unidentified short-range projectiles into the East Sea. It was the North’s sixth round of ballistic missiles or other projectiles launched since July 25.

While Pyongyang did not disclose the name of the projectiles, calling them a “new type of weapon,” experts said they bear a resemblance to the U.S. Army’s MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System, which can inflict damage the size of five to six soccer fields.

By Park Han-na