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(LEAD) U.S., N.K. kick off working-level talks for second summit of their leaders

All News 11:39 January 20, 2019

(ATTN: ADDS more details throughout, photo)

STOCKHOLM, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- Senior officials from the United States and North Korea have kicked off working-level talks in Sweden to prepare for a second summit between the leaders of the two countries, sources said Sunday.

Stephen Biegun, Washington's special representative for North Korea, arrived in Stockholm on Saturday afternoon for four days of meetings with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui in an effort to break the current deadlock over denuclearization talks.

It is the first time that Biegun has met Choe for working-level denuclearization talks since he became the U.S. nuclear envoy in August last year.

South Korea's top nuclear envoy, Lee Do-hoon, also arrived in Sweden on Friday for possible three-way negotiations with them as a potential mediator in denuclearization talks.

While at a retreat 50 kilometers northwest of Stockholm, the nuclear envoys are expected to hold intensive negotiations to break the impasse. The facility is under tight security, with police blocking journalists and outsiders' access to it.

This photo, taken Jan. 20, 2019, shows a retreat outside Stockholm under tight security where senior officials from the United States and North Korea are holding working-level talks for a second summit between their leaders next month. (Yonhap)

The meeting came as Kim Yong-chol, a top North Korean official, wrapped up his three-day visit to Washington on Sunday after meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and agreeing to hold a second summit next month between Trump and the North's leader, Kim Jong-un.

The White House said Friday that Trump and Kim will hold a second summit "near the end of February," without elaborating on the date and venue.

Trump and Kim held their historic first summit in Singapore in June last year and agreed to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for security guarantees for Pyongyang.

The denuclearization talks have been at an impasse, however, with the North calling for sanctions relief and corresponding measures by the U.S. for the denuclearization steps that it has taken so far, such as the dismantling of a nuclear test site. But Washington has insisted that sanctions and pressure will be maintained until North Korea implements sincere denuclearization measures, including declaring a list of its nuclear weapons.

Experts said that the U.S. and North Korea may seek to focus on making some concessions to break the current deadlock.

Some have floated an idea of a small package deal that may involve the North shutting down or freezing operations at the Yongbyon nuclear complex and dismantling intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in exchange for Washington's partial sanctions relief.

During his New Year's speech, Kim Jong-un said that he is willing to meet Trump at any time, but he also warned of taking a new way if Washington sticks to a policy of pressure and sanctions on the regime.

Kim visited Beijing earlier this month for his fourth summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

He reaffirmed his commitment to denuclearization and pledged efforts to produce worthy results from a second summit with Trump.

Citing diplomatic sources, Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun said Sunday that during his summit with Xi, Kim said he plans to unveil "bold" denuclearization steps if a second summit is held.

This file image shows Stephen Biegun (L), Washington's special representative for North Korea, and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui. (Yonhap)


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