U.S. nuke envoy Biegun to hold talks with S. Korean officials ahead of Trump’s visit

SEOUL-- Top U.S. nuclear envoy Stephen Biegun was set to hold talks with key South Korean officials in Seoul on Friday, a day before President Donald Trump's trip to the Asian ally aimed at boosting efforts to bring North Korea back to the negotiation table.

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Biegun will first meet his South Korean counterpart, Lee Do-hoon, to discuss joint efforts to resume now-stalemated nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang. Their meeting is set to begin at 10 a.m.

Later in the day, Biegun is to pay a courtesy call on Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul possibly to discuss inter-Korean ties and Seoul's recent provision of humanitarian support to the impoverished neighbor via international aid agencies.

Trump will begin his two-day trip to Seoul on Saturday after his attendance at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan. He will hold a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Sunday to explore ways to address the deadlock in nuclear talks with the North.

Negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have been at an impasse since the no-deal summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi in February.

In recent weeks, Trump and Kim exchanged personal letters, which bolstered expectations that the United States and the North could resume their working-level talks to bridge differences and pave the way for a possible third summit.

A key sticking point between the two sides is the extent of Pyongyang's denuclearization in return for Washington's sanctions relief.

During the Hanoi summit, Kim offered to dismantle the mainstay Yongbyon nuclear complex, but Trump wanted more than the complex, which the U.S. sees as only a part of the North's sprawling nuclear program.

During an event at the Atlantic Council think tank earlier this month, Biegun emphasized that the "door is wide open" to negotiations with the North and without preconditions.

He also noted that both sides understand the need for a "flexible approach" -- remarks that some observers said insinuated the U.S.' willingness to ease its hard-line stance.

Speculation has persisted that Biegun might travel to the inter-Korean border truce village of Panmunjom to meet North Korean officials. But on Thursday, an official at Seoul's foreign ministry hinted that he might not have sufficient time to visit Panmunjom.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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