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U.S.’s special envoy for North Korea to travel to Japan and South Korea within weeks

Kyodo

New U.S. special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, will visit Japan and South Korea within weeks to coordinate policies on North Korea, the U.S. State Department said Wednesday.

It will be Biegun’s first trip to the region since being appointed as the U.S. special representative for North Korea last week.

Biegun was initially due to accompany Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on a canceled trip to North Korea this week, after which he was expected to hold talks with Japanese and South Korean officials in Tokyo.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert also denied some news reports saying a difference exists between the United States and South Korea over the North, maintaining that the two countries and Japan have been in close coordination on Pyongyang.

She made the remark when asked to comment on a news report saying senior U.S. officials had been irritated by a recently held “secret” meeting between Japan and North Korea.

“I can’t confirm any kind of meeting of that sort. I can tell you, though, that the U.S. and Japan … are very closely coordinated,” Nauert said at a news briefing.

“They talk, we talk — I would say virtually every single day. … And that is something that has not changed. We still remain in close coordination on many things,” she said.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that senior U.S. officials had voiced irritation that Japan was not forthright about the talks, which it said were held in Vietnam in July.

Officials in Tokyo have acknowledged that to negotiate the return of Japanese abductees in North Korea, they cannot rely solely on the United States to lobby on their behalf, according to the newspaper.

On Wednesday in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to comment on the report.

U.S. President Donald Trump said after a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June that he had raised the issue of North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals. But the joint statement issued by the leaders did not touch on human rights in North Korea, including the matter of abductions.

Tokyo had asked Trump to take up with Kim the decades-old issue that remains a stumbling block for Japan and North Korea normalizing diplomatic ties.