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U.S., South Korea diplomats discussed North Korea, report says

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun exchanged a phone call with his South Korean counterpart on Thursday, according to South Korean press reports. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun exchanged a phone call with his South Korean counterpart on Thursday, according to South Korean press reports. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE

Feb. 27 (UPI) -- U.S. and South Korean diplomats exchanged a phone call on Thursday regarding North Korea, as Seoul struggles to contain a massive outbreak of COVID-19.

Lee Do-hoon, South Korea's special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, spoke to Stephen Biegun, U.S. deputy secretary of state, on the one-year anniversary of the second U.S.-North Korea summit in Vietnam, Maeil Business reported.

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The two sides "assessed the situation on the Korean Peninsula" since January, when U.S. and South Korean officials met in Washington to discuss ways the two sides could work together on "complete denuclearization" and reach a "permanent peace settlement" on the peninsula, according to the report.

The coronavirus outbreak has impeded joint activities. The two sides agreed this week to postpone military exercises as the first U.S. serviceman in Korea tested positive for the virus.

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued the highest Level 3 health notice for South Korea. Confirmed cases exceeded 1,700 on Thursday.

South Korea may be concerned about travel restrictions between the two countries, however.

First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Se-young reportedly asked Biegun on Thursday to avoid "excessive measures" that could impede exchange, Yonhap reported.

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Cho said Seoul is practicing transparency and implementing "high levels of screening" while blocking the spread of the virus. About half the confirmed cases are connected to a secretive religious organization in the country, according to Seoul.

South Korea has declined to ban travelers from China, despite reports different regions of China are ordering incoming South Koreans to undergo mandatory quarantines amid the health crisis that first started in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

On Thursday, presidential Blue House spokesman Kang Min-seok told reporters there is no need to ban travelers from China, JoongAng Ilbo reported.

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A petition to the Blue House asking for a China travel ban gathered more than 760,000 signatures, before being shut down. The petition began on Jan. 23, and was "closed" by Saturday, Blue House records show.

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