The United States special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, urged Pyongyang on Monday to return offers of talks, dismissing leader Kim Jong Un‘s year-end deadline and stressing Washington’s willingness to discuss “all issues of interest.”
Tension has been rising in recent weeks as Pyongyang has conducted a series of weapons tests and waged a war of words with US President Donald Trump, stoking fears of a return to the hostility that characterised the two countries’ relationship before diplomatic efforts began last year.
Biegun arrived in Seoul on Sunday amid speculation he might try to salvage negotiations by reaching out to North Korea, which has promised to take an unspecified “new path” if Washington failed to soften its stance before the end of the year.
“The United States does not have a deadline. We have a goal,” Biegun told a joint news conference with his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon.
“Let me speak directly to our counterparts in North Korea. It is time for us to do our jobs. Let’s get this done. We are here, and you know how to reach us,” Biegun said.
Biegun said it would be “most unhelpful” if North Korea carried out a significant military provocation in the near future.
He also expressed regret over a string of statements from North Korean officials in recent weeks, saying the tone of them has been “so hostile and negative and so unnecessary”.
On Sunday, Pyongyang said it had successfully conducted another test at a satellite launch site aimed at “restraining and overpowering the nuclear threat” of the US, which experts said could help North Korea build more reliable intercontinental ballistic missiles.
“But it does not have to be this way. It is not yet too late,” Biegun said.
“We have offered any number of creative ways to proceed with feasible steps and flexibility in our negotiations to reach balanced agreements that meet the objectives of both sides.”
Analysts said the chances of North Korea accepting Biegun’s call for dialogue were slim, citing Pyongyang’s recent statements Washington had “nothing to offer” even if were talks to reopen.
“For North Koreans, Biegun effectively challenged their supreme leader by brushing off the year-end deadline,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.
Chun Yung-woo, a former South Korean nuclear envoy, said Biegun’s offer appeared to be aimed at undercutting Pyongyang’s bid to deal directly with Trump.
Trump’s re-election battle and the impeachment inquiry against him may have led Kim to overestimate North Korea’s leverage, diplomatic sources told Reuters news agency.
“North Korea won’t likely show up at the negotiating table unless the United States promises to make clear concessions instead of calling for a meeting for meeting’s sake,” said Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Kyungnam University in Seoul.