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(2nd LD) Biegun says will not take up ambassadorship in Russia

All Headlines 12:26 August 21, 2019

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead; UPDATES throughout
By Song Sang-ho

SEOUL, Aug. 21 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun on Wednesday rejected media speculation about his possible ambassadorship in Russia, pledging to "remain focused" on making progress in nuclear talks with North Korea.

Biegun made the remarks after his talks with South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon in Seoul, amid growing expectations that Washington and Pyongyang would resume their working-level negotiations on the North's nuclear disarmament.

"First regarding our negotiating team, I wanted to dispel any rumors that I will be leaving this portfolio to take up an ambassadorship abroad," he said.

"I will not be taking up a diplomatic posting in the Russia federation and I will remain focused on making progress on North Korea," he added.

The U.S. envoy also stressed that "as agreed by" North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, President Donald Trump gave his team the assignment to re-start the talks with the North following the leaders' impromptu meeting at the inter-Korean border on June 30.

"I am fully committed to this important mission. We will get this done," Biegun said.

He went on to say, "We are prepared to engage as soon as we hear from our counterparts in North Korea."

Biegun kicked off his official schedule for a series of meetings with senior Seoul officials, including Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul. He arrived here from Japan on Tuesday for a three-day visit.

His trip came as the conclusion of a combined South Korea-U.S. military exercise raised the prospects for the resumption of working-level nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.

The communist regime had berated the exercise as a rehearsal for invasion, shunning negotiations with the United States, firing a fusillade of short-range projectiles into the East Sea and sharpening its rhetoric against the South.

Biegun and Lee were expected to coordinate the allies' positions and strategies over how to make progress once negotiations with the North are relaunched.

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun (L) talks with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Do-hoon, at the foreign ministry in Seoul on Aug. 21, 2019. (Yonhap)

Washington and Pyongyang were expected to resume the working-level talks last month based on an agreement between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during their impromptu talks at the inter-Korean border on June 30.

But the talks have not been held amid tensions over the combined military exercise between Seoul and Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed hope Tuesday that the North will return to negotiations to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

"We hope Chairman Kim will come to the table and get a better outcome. It will be better for the North Korean people. It will be better for the world," he said in an interview with CBS.

Trump has tweeted that in a recent letter to him, the North Korean leader expressed his desire to relaunch the talks with the U.S. as soon as the allied exercise ends.

Biegun's visit to Seoul has spawned speculation that during his stay here, he could meet North Koreans at the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom and resume much-awaited nuclear negotiations.

On Thursday, Biegun reportedly plans to meet Kim Hyun-chong, a deputy director of the National Security Office, at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.

sshluck@yna.co.kr
(END)

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