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(3rd LD) U.S. nuke envoy visits S. Korea after N.K. spurns possibility of talks

North Korea 19:46 July 07, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 3-4)
By Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, July 7 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun arrived in South Korea on Tuesday for talks about denuclearizing North Korea, as the communist nation again rejected the possibility of resuming negotiations with the United States.

Biegun, who doubles as Washington's chief nuclear envoy, landed at the U.S. Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, sources said. Alex Wong, deputy special representative for the North, is believed to have traveled with him.

Biegun and his delegation underwent COVID-19 testing upon arrival, leading to a delay in their departure for Seoul. That has reportedly led to the cancellation of a dinner that U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris had planned to host for Biegun.

"Out of an abundance of caution and in consultation with Republic of Korea health authorities, Deputy Secretary of State and Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun, members of his delegation, and the military air crew are currently undergoing testing for COVID-19 at Osan Air Base," an embassy spokesperson said.

"Upon confirmation that all individuals have received negative test results, the delegation will proceed to Seoul," the official said.

Biegun's three-day visit comes after the North made clear in a statement earlier in the day that it has "no intention to sit face to face" with the U.S., saying there are still people talking about such a possibility even after First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui issued a statement spurning the idea on Saturday.

In Seoul, Biegun is expected to hold talks with Lee Do-hoon, Seoul's nuclear envoy, about ways to break the impasse in the nuclear negotiations. Also expected to be on the agenda are inter-Korean relations in the wake of the North's blowing up of a joint liaison office.

Other officials he is also scheduled to meet include Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young. He could also meet with Seoul's new national security adviser Suh Hoon.

The U.S. Department of State said Monday that Biegun will travel to Seoul and Tokyo from Tuesday to Friday "to continue close allied cooperation" on bilateral and other issues and to "further strengthen coordination on the final, fully verified denuclearization of the DPRK." DPRK is the acronym of North Korea's official name, Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Nuclear talks between the U.S. and the North have stalled since the no-deal summit in Hanoi last year between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The two sides held working-level talks later that year, but no progress was made.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun leaves for Japan at the Gimpo International Airport, in western Seoul, on Dec. 17, 2019, after wrapping up his trip to South Korea for talks on North Korea's denuclearization. (Yonhap)


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