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(2nd LD) N.K., U.S. may hold nuclear working-level talks no later than early Dec.: Seoul

North Korea 19:57 November 04, 2019

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES throughout with intelligence panel's correction; ADDS more quotes)

SEOUL, Nov. 4 (Yonhap) -- North Korea and the United States may hold working-level nuclear talks in November or no later than early December, ahead of the year-end deadline Pyongyang has set for a nuclear deal with Washington, Seoul's spy agency was quoted as saying Monday.

The National Intelligence Service (NIS) made the assessment during a closed-door parliamentary audit session, adding that it is also closely watching the possibility of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visiting China within this year, according to lawmakers on the intelligence panel.

"The NIS forecast North Korea and the U.S. to hold their working-level talks no later than early December," Rep. Lee Eun-jae of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party told a press briefing.

"As the two sides identified each other's stance in their Stockholm talks in October, the time appears to be coming for them to launch full-fledged consultations," she added.

The U.S. and North Korea held working-level nuclear talks in the Swedish capital after months of stalemate, but the talks broke down with the North accusing the U.S. of failing to come up with a new proposal.

Rep. Kim Min-ki of the ruling Democratic Party said Kim appears to have decided to hold a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in December, citing the spy agency.

But Rep. Lee Hye-hoon, the chief of the parliamentary intelligence committee, later made a correction, saying that the spy agency's analysis was that the North might be "aiming for" another Trump-Kim summit by the end of December.

The intelligence service told lawmakers that the North and China are apparently consulting Kim's possible trip to Beijing as the two countries celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic ties this year.

Touching on the North's missile capability, the NIS said North Korea had launched its intercontinental ballistic missiles from mobile launchers, but recently used the transporter erector launcher in just moving the missile and used a separate structure for the actual launching.

Pyongyang fired three ICBMs in 2017 before it announced the completion of its nuclear force in November of that year.

Chung Eui-yong, chief of Cheong Wa Dae's National Security Office, came under fire from conservative critics for saying it is "technically difficult" for North Korea to fire ICBMs from mobile launchers, during a recent parliamentary audit session.

Seoul is closely monitoring the North as it could test fire a missile from its new submarine being built at the Sinpo shipyard on its east coast, according to the lawmakers. The submarine is estimated to be in the final stages of construction.

The agency then said Kim Pyong-il, the North's top envoy to the Czech Republic, has been replaced and that he is expected to return home soon, together with the North's ambassador to Austria, Kim Kwang-sop. Kim Kwang-sop is brother-in-law of Kim Pyong-il, a younger half-brother of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Regarding South Korea's decision to end a military intelligence-sharing pact with Tokyo, Suh said it is hard to rule out the possibility of Seoul reversing the decision, according to Rep. Lee.

Suh Hoon, chief of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), attends a parliamentary inspection of the NIS by the intelligence committee of the National Assembly in Seoul on Nov. 4, 2019. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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