Saturday, February 9, 2019

US envoy back after talks in Pyongyang

The special US envoy for North Korea returned to Seoul on Friday after talks with North Korean officials in Pyongyang to set up the agenda for the second summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. Stephen Biegun's three-day trip was expected to have explored a wide range of denuclearisation issues in preparation for the much-anticipated summit in Vietnam on February 27 and 28. Biegun landed at Osan US Air Base Friday evening, foreign ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk told AFP. It is not yet known whether Biegun met with Kim, with North Korean media silent on his visit. He is expected to share details of his Pyongyang meetings with his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha on Saturday. Attention will be on whether the US team have offered to lift some economic sanctions in return for Pyongyang taking concrete steps towards denuclearisation. Discussions on declaring a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War could also have been on the table, with Biegun last week saying Trump was "ready to end this war". The three-year conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas still technically at war, with the US keeping 28,500 troops in the South. The US envoy was also likely to have discussed protocol and security matters for the upcoming Trump-Kim summit with his North Korean counterpart Kim Hyok Chol. Ahead of his trip, the State Department said Biegun's meetings with Kim Hyok Chol would "advance further progress on the commitments the president and Chairman Kim made in Singapore: complete denuclearisation, transforming US-DPRK relations and building a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula". At their landmark summit in Singapore last year, the mercurial US and North Korean leaders produced a vaguely-worded document in which Kim pledged to work towards "the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula." But progress has since stalled with the two sides disagreeing over what that means. Experts say tangible progress on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons will be needed for the second summit if it is to avoid being dismissed as "reality TV".