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Work Remains for US and N. Korea Ahead of Second Summit

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun, left, talks with South Korean National Security Director Chung Eui-yong during a meeting at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Feb. 4, 2019.
U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun, left, talks with South Korean National Security Director Chung Eui-yong during a meeting at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Feb. 4, 2019.

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun called his recent talks in Pyongyang “productive” ahead of the second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but noted that much work still needs to be done.

The U.S. State Department also said that Biegun has agreed to meet his counterpart, Kim Hyok Chol, at least once more prior to the summit taking place on February 27-28 in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Kim Joon-hyung, Professor at Handong University Department of International Studies, was not surprised that more meetings would take place, calling the Pyongyang meeting “the very first proper working-level meeting.”

“[The] American side has continuously asked the North to have a working-level meeting; however, last year, until the recent Kim Yong Chol visit to the USA, they have not met. Hence, this was practically the first working-level meeting [between the two sides],” said Kim Joon-hyung.

“We don't know where it is going to go. But, we are in the midst of the conversation with the North. And our discussions were productive,” Biegun said while meeting South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Hyung-wha Saturday, following three days of talks with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Hyok Chol.

Dongguk University’s Kim Yong-hyun, a professor in the Department of North Korean Studies, said the outcome of Biegun’s visit to North Korea may have been an agreement on what the United States’ would offer as a “corresponding measure” for the North’s cessation of nuclear and missile testing the past year.

“[The] President is very much looking forward to taking the next steps. We have some hard work to do with the DPRK between now and then. And then, I am confident that if both sides stay committed, we can make real progress here,” Biegun said, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

In his tweet, the President added, “I look forward to seeing Chairman Kim & advancing the cause of peace!"

More meetings scheduled

While the State Department provided no information about the upcoming meeting with Biegun and Kim Hyok Chol, South Korean presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told reporters, “North Korea and the U.S. have agreed to continue negotiations in a third country in Asia during the week of February 17.”

He gave no other information about the upcoming talks.

News of Biegun and Kim meeting again before the second Trump-Kim summit was warranted, said Kim Yong-hyun.

“Further coordination is required to coordinate the details, such as the differences in denuclearization demanded by the United States and North Korea,” said Kim Yong-hyun, adding that future discussions before the summit would also likely address Pyongyang’s request to lift sanctions, and Washington’s insistence they remain in place.

Saturday, South Korea's Kang spoke positively of Biegun's report of progress from Pyongyang.

“You have our full support as you move forward in preparation for the summit and beyond,” the foreign minister said.

Trump also tweeted over the weekend, "North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, will become a great Economic Powerhouse. He may surprise some but he won't surprise me, because I have gotten to know him & fully understand how capable he is. North Korea will become a different kind of Rocket - an Economic one!"

Second summit outcomes

Speaking last week at Stanford University, Biegun outlined the administration’s goals for the upcoming talks with Kim Jong Un.

"Before the process of denuclearization can be final, we must also have a complete understanding of the full extent of the North Korean WMD and missile programs, we will get that at some point through a comprehensive declaration,” he said.

Biegun noted that both sides “must reach agreement on expert access and monitoring mechanisms of key sites to international standards, and ultimately ensure the removal or destruction of stockpiles of fissile material, weapons, missiles, launchers and other weapons of mass destruction."

"President Trump has made clear, both to North Korea, as well as to our team that he expects significant and verifiable progress on denuclearization -- actions that are bold, and real to emerge from that next summit,” said Biegun.

To Kim Joon-hyung, Biegun’s use of “actions that are bold, and real” means the Trump administration is expecting a “visible measure of denuclearization.”

This may be the “drastic disposal of Yongbyon facilities - in speed, timeline, and scale,” he said.

The Yongbyon nuclear test facility is a major research facility in North Korea. In the September 19 Pyongyang Declaration, Kim Jong Un “expressed its willingness to continue to take additional measures, such as the permanent dismantlement of the nuclear facilities in [Yongbyon,] as the United States takes corresponding measures in accordance with the spirit of the June 12 US-DPRK Joint Statement.”

It remains unclear what “corresponding measure” Washington may take during the second summit, but the Center for the National Interest Director of Korea Study’s Harry Kazianis said it may be possible for President Trump to issue a peace declaration, something Seoul and Pyongyang have called for.

Lee Ju-hyun contributed to this report.

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    Steve Miller

    Steve Miller is a veteran broadcast journalist with over a decade of experience. He is currently the Executive Producer of VOA's audio programs including its long-form podcasts and hourly 5-minute newscasts. Before joining VOA in 2016, Steve covered the Indo-Pacific region while living in South Korea, where he explored the region's rich history and culture while reporting on geopolitics, human rights, and tourism.