Hard work still needed before Trump-Kim summit, says US envoy Stephen Biegun

Stephen Biegun arrives at Incheon International Airport for talks on the upcoming summit. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (AFP, REUTERS) - There was still some hard work to be done ahead of the upcoming summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a Washington envoy said Saturday (Feb 9) after three days of talks in Pyongyang.

Stephen Biegun, the US Special Representative for North Korea, said preparatory talks had been productive, but more dialogue was needed ahead of the summit scheduled for Vietnam from Feb 27-28.

Biegun on Saturday briefed South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha on his Pyongyang visit, shortly after Trump revealed the summit would take place in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.

"We have some hard work to do with the DPRK between now and then," Biegun told Kang, adding: "I'm confident that if both sides stay committed we can make real progress here."

Trump announced Hanoi as the location on Twitter, hailing as "very productive" the preparatory talks between diplomats from the two countries. "I look forward to seeing Chairman Kim & advancing the cause of peace!" he said.

The State Department said talks during Biegun's three-day trip explored Trump and Kim's "commitments of complete denuclearisation, transforming US-DPRK relations and building a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula".

North Korea is known formally as Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK.

The State Department also confirmed Biegun had agreed to meet his North Korean counterpart Kim Hyok Chol again before the summit.

North Korea has yet to provide any official confirmation of the summit and Kim Jong Un appeared to make no mention of it during a meeting earlier with the top brass of the Korean People's Army. As reported by state media, the meeting focused on the need to modernise the military while maintaining party discipline in the ranks.

Ending the Korean War?

Attention will now focus on whether the US team have offered to lift some economic sanctions in return for Pyongyang taking concrete steps toward denuclearisation.

Biegun said last week his Pyongyang talks would be aimed at seeking progress on commitments made in Singapore and mapping out "a set of concrete deliverables" for the second summit.

He said Washington was willing to discuss "many actions" to improve ties and entice Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and that Trump was ready to end the 1950-53 Korean War, which concluded with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Biegun had said Kim Jong Un committed during an October visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the dismantling and destruction of plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities and that "corresponding measures" demanded by North Korea would be the subject of his talks.

At the same time, he set out an extensive list of demands that North Korea would have to meet eventually, including full disclosure of its nuclear and missile programmes, something Pyongyang has rejected for decades.

Trump, eager for a foreign policy win to distract from domestic troubles, has been keen for a second summit despite a lack of significant moves by North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programme. He and Biegun have stressed the economic benefits to North Korea if it does so.

Trump said much work remained to be done in the push for peace with North Korea, but cited the halt in its nuclear testing and no new missile launches in 15 months as proof of progress.

The Singapore summit yielded a vague commitment by Kim to work toward the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, where US troops have been stationed since the Korean War.

While in the US view North Korea has yet to take concrete steps to give up its nuclear weapons, Pyongyang complains that Washington has done little to reciprocate for its freezing of nuclear and missile testing and dismantling of some facilities.

Pyongyang has repeatedly urged a lifting of punishing US-led sanctions, a formal end to the war, and security guarantees.

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.