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U.S. North Korea envoy calls on Pyongyang to return to talks

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun , shown visiting a chicken soup restaurant in Seoul, has encouraged North Korea to resume diplomacy. Photo by EPA-EFE/Yonhap
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun , shown visiting a chicken soup restaurant in Seoul, has encouraged North Korea to resume diplomacy. Photo by EPA-EFE/Yonhap

Dec. 10 (UPI) -- The top U.S. diplomat for North Korea urged Pyongyang to return to diplomatic engagement as it prepares to hold its Eighth Party Congress in January.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, who met with South Korean Unification Minister Lee In-young on Thursday and spoke at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, said diplomacy is the best option for stakeholders.

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"Pyongyang has some pivotal events coming up, in particular the Eighth Party Congress in January. We strongly encourage North Korea to use the time between now and then to set a path for the resumption of diplomacy," Biegun said, according to Yonhap.

The senior U.S. diplomat also criticized Pyongyang for not responding to offers of talks.

"Regrettably, much opportunity has been squandered by our North Korean counterparts over the past two years, who too often have devoted themselves to the search for obstacles to negotiations instead of seizing opportunities for engagement," Biegun said.

The U.S. envoy added the U.S.-North Korea agreement signed at the Singapore Summit remains in effect. North Koreans operate in a different environment but are human, Biegun said, adding North Korean negotiators he encountered were sincere and that the regime should not be demonized, according to local newspaper Hankyoreh.

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Biegun's message comes as U.S. President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office in January. Biegun said Thursday the United States should not expect North Korea to do everything, and vice versa. A roadmap for implementation must be devised, he said.

The U.S. deputy secretary of state's visit to Seoul drew public attention in the South Thursday, after local media reported Biegun again visited a traditional Korean restaurant in central Seoul known for its chicken soups and stews.

Seoul Economic Daily reported Biegun dined with South Korean officials at Dakhanmari, the restaurant that he also visited in July immediately after landing in the country.

Biegun's "food diplomacy" has received favorable reviews in the South and invited friendly puns about his meat-eating habits Thursday. Biegun's name is homophonous to the Korean word for "vegan."

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