US envoy to visit Seoul as deadline looms for stalled North Korea talks

US special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun will be in Seoul for a three-day stay and hold consultations with his South Korean counterpart. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS) - The US special envoy for North Korea will arrive in South Korea on Sunday (Dec 15) ahead of a year-end deadline set by Pyongyang for Washington to soften its approach to stalled denuclearisation talks, Seoul said on Friday.

Mr Stephen Biegun will be in Seoul for a three-day visit and hold consultations with his counterpart Lee Do-hoon and other officials, South Korea's Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

"The two sides will exchange extensive views on the recent situation on the Korean peninsula and discuss ways to bring substantial progress on achieving a complete denuclearisation and enduring peace," the ministry said in a statement.

Tension has been rising in recent weeks as Pyongyang has conducted a series of weapons tests and waged a war of words with US President Donald Trump, stoking fears the two countries could return to a collision course that they had been on before launching diplomacy last year.

Mr Biegun's trip sparked speculation he might try to salvage negotiations by reaching out to North Korea, or by publicly sending a message.

North Korea has vowed to take an unspecified "new path" if the United States fails to address its demands before the end of the year.

On Thursday, it said Washington had "nothing to offer" even if talks were to reopen, and the United States warned against any resumption of "unfortunate ill-advised behaviour".

"In any case, Biegun would try to give an impression that they won't be manipulated by the North Koreans, while making clear that they want to keep talking," a diplomatic source in Seoul said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Mr Trump have met three times since last year to negotiate an end to North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes, but there has been scant progress, with working-level talks led by Mr Biegun in October in Stockholm breaking down.

US officials came to that meeting seeking a "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation" and a moratorium on weapons tests as a first step, while a North Korean negotiator accused them of sticking to their "old viewpoint and attitude".

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