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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Dec. 14)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 08:53 December 14, 2019

Biegun's visit
: North Korea should not stick to year-end deadline

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun will arrive in South Korea, Sunday, for a three-day visit, which may include meetings with North Korean officials at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjeom.

His visit is drawing particular attention because this could be the de facto last chance to make a breakthrough in the stalled U.S.-North Korea denuclearization talks ahead of the North's year-end negotiations deadline. A week ago, North Korea said it had successfully conducted a "very important" test that would change its "strategic position," prompting speculation that it had tested a new rocket engine for long-range ballistic missiles. There have also been growing signs that Pyongyang is preparing to restart its nuclear development program.

It is not known whether Biegun, now the nominee for deputy secretary of state, will meet with the North Koreans during the visit. Hopes are slim for a turnaround in bilateral relations, but there have been some positive signs. Biegun participated in a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting in New York, Wednesday, to discuss North Korea's recent provocations. After the meeting, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft said the U.S. was ready to be "flexible" in negotiations with the North, saying concrete steps could be taken simultaneously depending on how it behaved. China and Russia reportedly demanded the U.S. set up a roadmap for the easing of sanctions on the North at the UNSC session.

The question is why Biegun is coming to Seoul at this moment. If he comes with a letter from President Donald Trump to deliver to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and it contains a new proposal for a deal, the situation could change dramatically. Biegun's visit just before the North's self-imposed deadline implies that President Trump wants to prevent the North from moving ahead with further provocative actions and move the stalled talks forward.

In October in Sweden, Biegun held the last working-level negotiations with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Myong-gil, but the talks fell through, with Kim accusing the U.S. of having come to the table "empty-handed." It seems that the only way for Trump to prevent the North from pulling out of talks is to make a concession, that is, some form of sanctions relief.

The U.S. has been increasingly flying surveillance aircraft over the Korean Peninsula in recent weeks ― a possible prelude to imminent missile launches by North Korea. Hopefully, Pyongyang will return to dialogue instead of raising tensions. Both sides should not forget that the nuclear issue should be resolved peacefully. The year-end deadline is meaningless if both sides are still committed to finding a solution through dialogue.
(END)

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