WASHINGTON, Nov. 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's top envoy to the United States has voiced his view that there is no "Plan B" if diplomatic efforts fail to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons program.
In a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency, Ambassador Cho Yoon-je said there is unity among the three nations that talks must continue despite the recent setbacks in implementing an agreement to denuclearize the regime.
That agreement came at a historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in June, but no formal negotiations have been held since to determine the next steps.
"I don't think there is a Plan B yet. I think both North Korea and the U.S. are set on continuing the dialogue momentum, no matter what it takes," said Cho, who recently marked his first year since taking office. "It's a historic opportunity."
The mood for dialogue only began this year. Last year tensions spiked as North Korea conducted its sixth test of a nuclear weapon and several tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles apparently capable of striking the U.S.
Trump and Kim engaged in a fiery war of words, with the U.S. president threatening to "totally destroy" the regime and the North Korean leader responding in kind.
Heightening concerns, the Trump administration was reportedly considering a limited "bloody nose" strike on North Korea's nuclear facilities, a solution U.S. officials repeatedly denied.
"North Korea also wants to maintain the dialogue momentum and is aware of the price it will have to pay if it doesn't," the ambassador said. "So I think there will be progress little by little."
As for the details of a potential U.S.-North Korea deal, Cho said an all-in-one agreement would be ideal but difficult.
"There was hope that the two sides would put everything on the negotiating table and reach a comprehensive deal under a set timeline, but I don't think that's easy in reality," he said. "It'll be difficult to transition overnight from 70 years of mistrust and hostility to a relationship of trust."
To overcome that barrier, the envoy suggested a step-by-step approach.
"It's important to accumulate small achievements," he said. "And in the process of building each small achievement, there must be an effort to reaffirm each other's intentions and lock them in, so that the process can't be reversed."
What North Korea is seeking to gain from the negotiations is sanctions relief and a formal declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War.
But the U.S. has refused to offer any major concessions until it sees the full and verified denuclearization of the regime.
Amid the deadlock, a planned meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a senior North Korean official was abruptly postponed earlier this month. Meanwhile, working-level talks that were meant to begin after Pompeo's fourth trip to Pyongyang in October have yet to materialize.
"Once the working-level talks begin, I think the U.S. will be ready to offer corresponding measures (for North Korea's denuclearization)," Cho said. "Those measures could include an end-of-war declaration, the opening of a liaison office between the two countries and the visit of an orchestra to North Korea."
Kim expressed a willingness to shut down the North's main nuclear complex in Yongbyon if the U.S. provided corresponding measures, the ambassador recalled from the North Korean's meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
And on perceptions of a growing rift between Seoul and Washington in their approach to North Korea, Cho dismissed them as "considerably exaggerated."
"While our two nations are firm allies, we cannot always have the same opinions," he said. "Our 70-year alliance has only grown stronger by closely communicating our different perspectives and positions."
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