Top U.S. nuclear negotiator Stephen Biegun was set to meet President Moon Jae-in and other senior Seoul officials on Monday to discuss how to bring North Korea back to dialogue amid rising tensions over its apparent rocket engine tests this month.
The special representative for North Korea arrived in Seoul the previous day as Pyongyang has been ramping up pressure on Washington to present an acceptable proposal before its year-end deadline to advance their stalemated nuclear negotiations.
Biegun plans to pay a courtesy call on Moon at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae at 11 a.m. It would mark his first such visit to the president since September last year shortly before an inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang.
Before that, the U.S. official, now the nominee for deputy secretary of state, will separately meet First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young and then his counterpart Lee Do-hoon at the foreign ministry.
After his talks with Lee, Biegun plans to issue a short statement, which is likely to include a U.S. call for the North to return to the negotiating table and refrain from provocative acts that could jeopardize the dialogue process.
Concerns have persisted that the North could pivot away from the dialogue process as it has been ratcheting up tensions with a threat to take a "new way" if the year-end deadline is not met.
On Dec. 7 and last Friday, the North conducted "important" tests at its Dongchang-ri west coast satellite launch site, raising speculation it is preparing for a long-range rocket test.
His trip has spawned speculation that he could visit the inter-Korean border truce village of Panmunjom for possible contact with North Koreans. But it remains to be seen whether such contact can materialize amid no signs of either side ceding ground.
If the U.S. envoy plans to deliver U.S. President Donald Trump's personal letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Biegun could meet North Korean officials, observers presumed.
The U.S. and the North last held working-level nuclear talks in Sweden in October. But the talks yielded little progress, with the North accusing the U.S. of having come to the negotiating table "empty-handed."
Since then, Pyongyang has toughened its demands, telling the U.S. to remove "all obstacles" that threaten the security of the North and hamper its development. The demands are seen as calls for sanctions relief and security assurances. (Yonhap)