Allies affirm close coordination for full denuclearization of N. Korea
SEOUL, Top South Korean and U.S. officials on North Korea sought Monday to assure the public that there's no quarrel between the allies over the denuclearization issue.
Stephen Biegun, the Donald Trump administration's special representative for North Korea, had back-to-back meetings in Seoul with his counterpart Lee Do-hoon and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.
The talks came as they are confronted with two urgent tasks: revitalizing Pyongyang-Washington dialogue and dispelling concerns about a possible rift between Seoul and Washington.
"We have a shared goal here, which is to bring an end to 70 years of war and hostilities on the Korean Peninsula. And the primary requirement for us to get to the end point is to achieve final, fully, verified denuclearization of North Korea," Biegun said at the outset of the meeting with Lee.
He was referring to the envisioned declaration of a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War that finished in an armistice.
He voiced confidence about achieving the end-of-war declaration and full denuclearization of Korea.
"I am absolutely confident this is within reach," he said, speaking in front of TV cameras.
Lee pointed out the denuclearization process is "at a critical juncture" and said what's important is to maintain close cooperation on the North Korea issue.
"We need to meet up as often as possible to make sure there is no daylight whatsoever between our two allies," he stressed.
The liberal Moon Jae-in government has been struggling to convince the people that it's in lockstep with the U.S. in engaging the North.
U.S. officials, however, are reportedly displeased with Seoul's push for speedy inter-Korean economic projects despite there being no further progress in efforts to rid the North of its nuclear arsenal.
During a roundtable meeting with a group of South Korean reporters visiting the U.S. capital last week, Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said U.S. officials are actually upset about Moon's campaign to ease some sanctions despite their outward talk of close partnerships.
In a statement on the outcome of the Lee-Biegun discussions, Seoul's foreign ministry did not provide details.
The two sides had "in-depth" consultations on a range of pending issues, including denuclearization, a peace regime, inter-Korean ties and Pyongyang-Washington talks, it said in a brief press release.
On the minister's meeting with Biegun, the ministry offered a little bit more information.
Kang emphasized the need to maintain the momentum of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's recent trip to Pyongyang and pull off "substantive" progress in the denuclearization and peace-building process, according to the ministry.
She suggested a continued coordination on specific methods and Biegun agreed to it.
The envoy was quoted as emphasizing that various levels of consultations between the two nations are very important in future Washington-Pyongyang negotiations.
He vowed more efforts to strengthen communication and cooperation with Seoul on Pyongyang, the ministry added.
Biegun arrived in Seoul on Sunday for a three-day stay, his fourth visit here since he was appointed as Washington's point man on Pyongyang in late August.
Less than a week earlier, he sat down with Lee in Washington.
He is scheduled to meet Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, who's in charge of Seoul's ties with Pyongyang, and presidential officials Tuesday.
Pompeo met with the North's leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang in early October to lay the groundwork for Kim's second summit with Trump. There have been no follow-up negotiations yet.
It remains unconfirmed whether Biegun plans to have talks with the North's Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui during his ongoing visit to Korea.
He invited Choe to talks in Vienna, but she did not respond to such overtures, according to an informed source.
Meanwhile, another North Korean vice foreign minister, Sin Hong-chol, is on a visit to Moscow for consultations with Russian officials, including the chief nuclear negotiator, Igor Morgulov.
Source: Yonhap News Agency