U.S. Hasn’t Sought Meeting With North Korea, Nuclear Envoy Says

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The U.S. hasn’t requested a meeting with North Korea, the State Department’s point person for talks with Pyongyang said, reaffirming the Trump administration’s commitment to eliminating nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun -- making his first visit to South Korea in about seven months -- met top South Korean officials Wednesday in Seoul in a bid to restart sputtering negotiations. Kwon Jong Gun, one of North Korea’s top diplomats, said earlier this week that Pyongyang had no intention to “sit face to face” with the U.S.

“I’ve seen some press comments that the North Koreans are not prepared to meet with me on this visit,” Biegun told reporters after meetings with officials including South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and nuclear envoy Lee Do-hoon. “It’s somewhat strange because we did not request a visit with North Koreans.”

The visit comes after North Korea blew up a $15 million joint liaison office that South Korea built north of the border two years ago as a symbol of President Moon Jae-in’s policy of reconciliation. Kim Jong Un’s regime, which has rejected U.S. offers of sanctions relief as insufficient, also accused the Trump administration of breaking promises, saying that it saw no reason to engage with Washington.

Moon has sought to restore projects with North Korea frozen due to political rancor. But he has found himself squeezed between Pyongyang’s demands to ease up on sanctions squeezing its paltry economy with more hawkish views in the Trump administration backing a maximum pressure campaign to force Kim to give up his nuclear weapons.

Biegun offered support in Seoul for Moon’s government “as it advances its goals with North Korea in inter-Korean cooperation,” but the Trump administration has given no indication that it will back down from the sanctions put in place to punish Pyongyang for test of nuclear bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles that could deliver a warhead to the U.S.

Before Biegun arrived in South Korea, a top North Korean foreign ministry official branded Moon a “meddlesome man,” for trying to broker talks between Trump and Kim, and said inter-Korean relations are bound to go bankrupt if his government keeps talking “nonsense.”

Three meetings between Trump and Kim from 2018 have yet to produce a significant breakthrough and the two countries can’t even agree on what the denuclearization of North Korea means. In the meanwhile, Kim’s regime keeps churning out fissile material and bombs, building an arsenal that could reach as high as 100 nuclear warheads by the end of the year, according to the Arms Control Association.

Biegun is due to arrive in Tokyo on Thursday for talks with Japanese officials before returning to the U.S.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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