US reinforces team handling North Korea affairs: Reports

US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shake hands during the signing of a document after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa, on June 12, 2018.
US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shake hands during the signing of a document after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa, on June 12, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL • The US State Department appears to have boosted a line-up of senior officials handling North Korea affairs amid stalled denuclearisation talks, a move experts say is a sign of Washington's willingness to resolve the nuclear stand-off.

The US has filled the posts needed to conduct negotiations with North Korea - US ambassador to South Korea and US special representative for North Korea - and reportedly created the role of deputy assistant secretary for North Korea.

Mr Marc Knapper, who until recently served as acting US ambassador to South Korea, was named acting deputy assistant secretary of state for Korea and Japan issues, according to news reports citing diplomatic sources.

Mr Mark Lambert, the State Department's director for Korea policy who has served as acting deputy assistant secretary for Korea and Japan and acting special representative for North Korea, is now assigned to a new role handling North Korea issues at the level of deputy assistant secretary, according to the reports.

Mr Lambert led negotiations with North Korean officials in preparation for the historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June.

The US Embassy in Seoul said the State Department has not made an official announcement on the appointments.

At the June summit in Singapore, Mr Trump and Mr Kim agreed to work towards the "complete denuclearisation" of the Korean peninsula in exchange for security guarantees from the US.

But negotiations have stalled as the US and North Korea want the other side to make concessions first. North Korea demands that the US agree to declare an end to the Korean War, but the US wants the North to take concrete steps to denuclearise first.

Dr Choi Kang, vice-president of The Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said the new team could accelerate the denuclearisation and peace-building process if negotiations with North Korea go well.

"Enhancing the team in the State Department shows Trump's willingness to focus his efforts on solving the North Korea nuclear issue," said Dr Choi.

Some of the key US posts on the two Koreas have been left vacant, triggering concerns over the shortage of seasoned US diplomats experienced in dealing directly with North Korea.

Admiral Harry Harris, former head of the US Pacific Command, assumed his role in July as ambassador to South Korea to fill the position that had been left vacant since Mr Trump took office.

Mr Stephen Biegun, a senior executive at Ford Motor, was tapped as the US special representative for North Korea last month. He will handle day-to-day talks with Pyongyang, according to the State Department.

Mr Biegun is expected to travel to Seoul next week to meet South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon and other foreign ministry officials as part of his Asia tour. He is to be accompanied by Mr Lambert.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2018, with the headline 'US reinforces team handling N. Korea affairs: Reports'. Print Edition | Subscribe