South Korean officials see momentum in stalled nuclear talks

By Thomas Maresca
South Korean officials see momentum in stalled nuclear talks
Lee Do-hoon, special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, at Incheon Airport on his way for a four-day trip to Washington D.C., where he will meet with his counterpart, nuclear envoy Stephen Biegun. Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, June 18 (UPI) -- Stalled nuclear negotiations between North Korea and the United States may be showing some signs of life, according to South Korean officials.

Seoul's nuclear envoy, Lee Do-hoon, left for Washington on Tuesday on a trip that will include a meeting with his counterpart, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun. The two are expected to discuss ways to kickstart the faltering U.S.-North Korea dialogue.


Speaking to reporters at Incheon Airport outside of Seoul before departing on his four-day trip, Lee said that he thought that communication channels have re-opened between the United States and North Korea.

"I believe various forms of contact are being made," he said, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap. "I can tell you that we're going in the direction where we can revive the momentum for dialogue."


His comments echoed recent sentiments by other South Korean officials.

Also on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told reporters that she believed there were "good signs" that the United States and North Korea would resume talks, Yonhap reported.

Kang was returning from a visit to the Russian Federation, where she met with her counterpart Sergey Lavrov and held a phone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

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Kang and Pompeo discussed President Donald Trump's planned visit to South Korea following the June 28-29 G20 summit in Japan, her office said in a statement.

The two "shared the view that President Trump's visit to [South Korea] in late June will serve as a significant opportunity to discuss ways to achieve complete denuclearization and establish permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula," the statement said.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has also stressed that dialogue is ongoing between the two Koreas despite a conspicuous lack of senior-level meetings since the failed February summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

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At a press conference on Friday during a state visit to Sweden, Moon said communication was happening through unspecified channels.


"At this moment the two Koreas are communicating through various different channels," Moon said.

In a sign that might indicate thawing inter-Korean relations, Kim Jong Un sent his sister, Kim Yo Jong, to the DMZ last week to offer condolences on the death of former South Korean first lady Lee Hee-ho.

She met briefly with South Korean officials and delivered a letter in the first public interaction between officials in months, where she expressed North Korea's interest in continued inter-Korean cooperation.

A flurry of upcoming diplomatic moves should provide at least an opportunity to lay the groundwork for future nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will be making his first visit to North Korea on Thursday and Friday, a sign that may indicate Kim Jong Un is looking for advice and approval from his most important ally on moving forward with a new round of negotiations. Kim Jong Un met with Xi ahead of his first summit with President Moon as well as before both summits with President Trump.

Both Xi and Trump will then be attending the G20 summit before Trump comes to South Korea.


President Trump continues to highlight his personal relationship with Kim Jong Un, reporting last week that he had received a "beautiful" and "very warm" letter from the North Korean leader.

And in an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, which aired on Sunday night, Trump suggested that another meeting with Kim was indeed possible.

"I think he'd like to meet again," Trump said. "And I think he likes me a lot. I think that we have a chance to do something."

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