Top US ne­go­tia­tor ar­rives in Seoul

Bangkok Post - - ASIA -

SEOUL: The United States’ top ne­go­tia­tor with North Korea ar­rived in South Korea yes­ter­day, a visit that comes as hopes rise for an eas­ing of ten­sions on the peninsula in the wake of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Asia tour and a lull in mis­sile test­ing.

Spe­cial Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for North Korea Pol­icy Joseph Yun will meet with South Korean and in­ter­na­tional of­fi­cials, ac­cord­ing to the US State De­part­ment, al­though there is no in­di­ca­tion his visit will in­clude talks with the North.

Seoul’s for­eign min­istry said Mr Yun is sched­uled for talks with his South Korean coun­ter­part, Lee Do-hoon, on Fri­day on the side­lines of an in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence on dis­ar­ma­ment, jointly hosted by the min­istry and the United Na­tions on the is­land of Jeju.

South Korea-born Mr Yun has been at the heart of re­ported di­rect diplo­macy in re­cent months with Kim Jong-un’s regime in North Korea, which ac­cel­er­ated its pro­gramme of nu­clear and mis­sile test­ing ear­lier this year.

Us­ing the so-called “New York chan­nel”, he has been in con­tact with diplo­mats at Py­ongyang’s United Na­tions mis­sion, a se­nior State De­part­ment of­fi­cial said in early Novem­ber.

Even as Mr Trump called talks a waste of time, Mr Yun has qui­etly tried to lower the tem­per­a­ture in a dan­ger­ous nu­clear stand­off in which each side shows lit­tle in­ter­est in com­pro­mise.

In a speech to the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions on Oct 30, Mr Yun re­port­edly said that if the North halts nu­clear and mis­sile tests for about 60 days, it would be a sign that Wash­ing­ton needs to seek a restart of di­a­logue with Py­ongyang.

Af­ter sev­eral months of un­prece­dented test­ing ear­lier this year, North Korea has not fired a rocket or tested a nu­clear weapon since it launched a bal­lis­tic mis­sile over Ja­pan on Sept 15.

Some an­a­lysts say it is too early to read much into the break in test­ing, which is the long­est lull so far this year, but could align with sea­sonal cy­cles.

And there is no sign that the be­hindthe-scenes com­mu­ni­ca­tions have im­proved a re­la­tion­ship vexed by North Korea’s nu­clear and mis­sile tests as well as Mr Trump’s heated state­ments.

Dur­ing his visit to Seoul last week, Mr Trump warned North Korea he was pre­pared to use the full range of US mil­i­tary power to stop any at­tack, but in a more con­cil­ia­tory ap­peal than ever be­fore he urged Py­ongyang to “make a deal” to end the nu­clear stand­off.

Mr Trump also urged North Korea to “do the right thing” and added that: “I do see some move­ment”, though he de­clined to elab­o­rate.

While his com­ments seemed to re­as­sure many in South Korea, North Korea’s for­eign min­istry called Mr Trump a “de­stroyer of the world peace and sta­bil­ity” and said his “reck­less re­marks” only made the regime more com­mit­ted to build­ing up its nu­clear force.

Mr Trump mud­died the wa­ter later on his Asia visit by Tweet­ing that North Korean leader Kim had in­sulted him by call­ing him “old” and said he would never call Kim “short and fat”.

He also said “it would be very, very nice” if he and Kim be­came friends.

“It is note­wor­thy that the pres­i­dent, at sev­eral junc­tures, seemed to open the door to ne­go­ti­a­tions with North Korea,” said David Press­man, a part­ner at the law firm Boies Schiller Flexner who helped lead North Korea sanc­tions ne­go­ti­a­tions as am­bas­sador to the UN un­der for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

“How­ever, it is en­tirely un­clear if the Pres­i­dent’s sug­ges­tions are re­flec­tive of a strate­gic shift or merely re­flec­tive of what the last per­son he hap­pened to speak with about North Korea said be­fore the pres­i­dent made those com­ments.”

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