Asia Pacific / Politics

Top U.S. envoy to North Korea to attend ASEAN forum, as speculation of sideline talks grows

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

The U.S. special envoy to North Korea, Stephen Biegun, will join Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the Thai capital for meetings on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum this week, in a move that could signal possible talks with the nuclear-armed country.

“U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun will accompany the Secretary to Bangkok for meetings on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum,” a State Department spokesperson told The Japan Times.

The news comes after a Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman said last week that a representative of North Korea will be present in Bangkok. It was unclear if Pyongyang would be sending its top diplomat, though Kyodo News reported Tuesday that North Korea’s ambassador to Thailand will attend the ARF on Friday in place of Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, who recently decided to skip the meeting.

Denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang have been stalled since U.S. President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi at the end of February. Those talks collapsed amid major differences over the scope of Pyongyang’s denuclearization and potential sanctions relief by Washington.

The White House has said it hopes long-stalled working-level talks with the North would restart sometime this month after Trump and Kim met on June 30 at the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas, injecting fresh momentum into the negotiations.

But that glimmer of hope appears to be fading after the North test-fired what experts say is a new type of short-range missile last week and in May.

Trump has downplayed those launches and expressed an interest in reviving the talks, and with Biegun and a North Korean representative in attendance at the ARF, the possibility of talks on the sidelines has grown.

Pompeo on Monday said that he hoped working-level talks with the North would begin “very soon.”

Speaking at the Economic Club of Washington, the top U.S. diplomat referenced his upcoming trip to the Thai capital when answering a question on North Korea.

“(Kim) now repeated that he’s prepared to denuclearize. It’s now time to execute. And I hope that we can achieve that,” Pompeo said.

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