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(LEAD) Biegun says diplomacy 'best' and 'only' course to resolving N.K. challenges

All News 15:57 December 10, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout; CHANGES photo)

SEOUL, Dec. 10 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said Thursday that diplomacy remains the "best" and "only" course to address the North Korean nuclear quandary, calling for Pyongyang to return to dialogue.

Biegun, who doubles as Washington's top nuclear envoy, made the remarks during a lecture in Seoul recapping his yearslong negotiations with the North, which he cast as being marked by "setbacks, disappointments and missed opportunities."

"As we look to the future, I remain convinced that diplomacy remains the best course, indeed the only course, to solving our challenges with North Korea," he said.

"Pyongyang has some pivotal events coming up, in particular the eighth party congress in January. We strongly encourage North Korea to use the time between now and then to set a path for the resumption of diplomacy," he added.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun speaks during a lecture at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul on Dec. 10, 2020. (Yonhap)

Biegun also voiced hope that the U.S. and the North can engage in the kind of "serious diplomacy that requires sustained engagement and difficult tradeoffs but has huge rewards."

Asked about Washington's rejection of Pyongyang's offer to dismantle its mainstay Yongbyon nuclear complex during their summit in Hanoi early last year, Biegun stressed that it does not represent the entirety of the North Korean nuclear program.

"Of course, Yongbyon remains a great interest to the United States of America, and that's a historic center of the North Korean nuclear weapons program. It still retains great importance in any process of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," he said.

"But the challenge that we faced in Hanoi, the challenge we face to this day, is it is not all of North Korea's nuclear weapons program," he added.

The deputy secretary, however, pointed out that the U.S. has "never expected one side has to do everything before the other side does anything."

Biegun underscored that his North Korean counterparts were not empowered to discuss serious negotiation topics -- a point he emphasized as the "key lesson" learned from the no-deal summit in Hanoi.

"We didn't have enough time in Hanoi to fully explore the limits of what might be possible, in part because the negotiating team that arrived before the summit was not empowered to discuss those issues," he said.

The U.S. envoy also expressed regrets over North Korean counterparts missing opportunities just in "search for obstacles."

The negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have been stalled since the Hanoi summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The impasse has also brought inter-Korean cooperation to a standstill.

"Regrettably, much opportunity has been squandered by our North Korean counterparts over the past two years, who too often have devoted themselves to the search for obstacles to negotiations instead of seizing opportunities for engagement," he said.

"Yet, remarkably, the potential of the Singapore Summit is still fully present, despite our failure to advance what was agreed."

Wrapping up his speech, he enumerated some points he will deliver to his successor in the incoming Joe Biden administration.

"The war is over. The time for conflict has ended, and the time for peace has arrived. If we are to succeed, we must work together -- the United States, the Republic of Korea and the DPRK," he said, referring to the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"And when we do, we will at long last be able to bring to this peninsula the lasting peace and prosperity that all the Korean people so richly deserve," he added.

Biegun arrived here on Tuesday for what could be his last visit in his current capacity as the State Department's No. 2 official and its point man on the North.

He will depart for the United States on Saturday morning.

sshluck@yna.co.kr
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