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Washington's top North Korea envoy to visit Seoul this week

Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, Washington's top North Korea envoy, will arrive in Seoul on Tuesday for a four-day visit. Photo by EPA-EFE/Yonhap
Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, Washington's top North Korea envoy, will arrive in Seoul on Tuesday for a four-day visit. Photo by EPA-EFE/Yonhap

SEOUL, Dec. 7 (UPI) -- U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, Washington's point man on nuclear negotiations with North Korea, will visit Seoul on Tuesday for a four-day trip, the State Department announced.

Biegun will meet with South Korean officials to "discuss the U.S.-ROK Alliance and our shared commitment to regional security, stability and prosperity throughout the Indo-Pacific and continued close coordination on North Korea," the State Department said in a statement Sunday.

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The Republic of Korea is the official name of South Korea.

Biegun's agenda includes a meeting with his counterpart on North Korean affairs, chief nuclear negotiator Lee Do-hoon, as well as a dinner on Friday with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, South Korea's foreign ministry said in a statement Monday.

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The nuclear envoy is also slated to meet with Unification Minister Lee In-young, according to ministry spokesman Yoh Sang-key, although a date has not been announced.

The visit comes during a period of uncertainty on the Korean Peninsula ahead of Washington's transition next month to the administration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Observers are keeping an eye out for any aggressive moves from North Korea, including a potential test launch of the massive intercontinental ballistic missile it unveiled at a military parade in October.

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At his meetings this week, Biegun can be expected to "discuss continuity of U.S.-North Korea policy and the likelihood of North Korean provocation during the vulnerable transition period," retired Army Special Forces Col. David Maxwell, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, wrote in a note.

Other topics could include the potential humanitarian and economic crises facing North Korea, as well as the unresolved military cost-sharing agreement between Washington and Seoul, Maxwell wrote.

Nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington have been stalled since a February 2019 summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended without an agreement.

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South Korea and the United States have also seen their military relationship strained over demands by the Trump administration for Seoul to pay more to cover the costs of the roughly 28,500 troops stationed on the Korean Peninsula.

Biegun was appointed special North Korea envoy in 2018 and was elevated to deputy secretary of state last year.

During his last visit to South Korea, he expressed Washington's resolve to resume the deadlocked dialogue with the North, saying when Kim appoints a counterpart for talks, "they will find us ready at that very moment."

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Biegun is also scheduled to deliver an address on Thursday at a Seoul think tank before returning to the United States on Saturday.

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