US envoy on North Korea to ask China to restart denuke talks
2024-07-18 06:48:15

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun arrives at the foreign ministry in Tokyo,<strong></strong> Wednesday. AP-Yonhap
U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun arrives at the foreign ministry in Tokyo, Wednesday. AP-Yonhap

By Kim Yoo-chul

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun is set to ask senior Chinese government officials for China's help to restart the stalled denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang, a senior ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) lawmaker said.

"Biegun used his high-profile meetings with senior Seoul officials as an opportunity to highlight U.S. readiness to apply quite flexible and inventive ways to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table. He is likely to convey these ideas he discussed with South Korean officials to Chinese officials. Simply, Biegun would ask China for Beijing's help to resume the denuclearization talks," the lawmaker who is involved with the matter told The Korea Times, Wednesday.

The State Department announced the U.S. envoy for the North will visit Beijing on Thursday and Friday after China and Russia proposed lifting some United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions on the North. The department said Biegun will discuss "the need to maintain international unity on North Korea" when he meets with Chinese officials.

The United States, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom have permanent seats in the UNSC, the authority on the sanctions imposed on the impoverished North.

A draft filed by China and Russia to the UNSC recently included actions to lift the prohibition on North Koreans working overseas and end the deadline for countries to send those low-paid workers back to the North. Also, it would allow some North Korea exports and imports that have been sanctioned, including textiles, seafood and bulldozers. Plus, the draft allows a proposed inter-Korean rail and road project to move forward, according to reports.

The lawmaker added presidential National Security Office (NSO) chief Chung Eui-yong and the office's second deputy Kim Hyun-chong discussed with Biegun during the U.S. government official's visit earlier this week to Cheong Wa Dae why providing sanctions relief on inter-Korean economic projects such as the Mount Geumgang tourism project matters in terms of the denuclearization process.

Regarding the specifics of Biegun's Beijing visit, a Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters the presidential office isn't in a position to comment on the matter. "Other than the announced written brief on Biegun's meeting with President Moon Jae-in, there's nothing more we can further confirm," the official said Wednesday.

After visiting Seoul, Biegun met with Japanese officials in Tokyo.

U.S. lawmakers and some critics in Seoul were bracing for a provocation by North Korea as its own year-end deadline for Washington to change its policies on the denuclearization talks draws near.

Washington and Pyongyang have disagreed about the process of denuclearization and timing of lifting economic sanctions. North Korea asked the United States to lift a wider range of economic sanctions, first, and the U.S. wanted a big deal.

Recent working-level talks held in Stockholm, Sweden, quickly broke down and North Korea resumed testing short-range missiles, conducting more than a dozen launches so far this year.

Pyongyang also started warning that if Washington doesn't change its "rigid negotiating stance" by the end of the year, it would start taking a "new path," which has widely been viewed as testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and possibly nuclear warheads, breaking a self-imposed moratorium on such tests. The North's official mouthpiece KCNA has been releasing footage recently of the North Korean leader attending the openings of tourism projects.

Trump has been more dismissive of the North's deadline saying his personal relationship with Kim is still solid and good. President Moon Jae-in will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, next week, in Beijing on his way to Chengdu. Moon is also expected to ask Xi for China's "greater role" in resuming the talks.