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US envoy to visit Seoul ahead of N.Korea deadline
Seoul, Dec 14 (IANS) US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun will arrive in South Korea on Sunday, the Foreign Ministry said here, just weeks ahead of Pyongyang’s year-end deadline for Washington to show flexibility to advance their nuclear talks.
His three-day visit starting Sunday will come amid rising tensions in the wake of Pyongyang’s apparent rocket engine test last week and Washington’s subsequent warnings against additional "hostile" acts, reports Yonhap News Agency.
Biegun’s planned 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 with no sign of either side ceding ground.
A day after his arrival, Biegun will meet his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon to discuss how to keep up the momentum for dialogue with the North and make progress in joint efforts to denuclearize it and foster a lasting peace on the peninsula, the Ministry said in a statement.
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.
The US and the North last held working-level nuclear talks in Sweden in October. But the talks yielded little progress, with the North accusing the US of having come to the negotiating table "empty-handed".
Recent weeks have only escalated the war of words between the US and the North, said the Yonhap News Agency.
On Thursday, the North upbraided the US for leading Wednesday’s UN Security Council session on its military activities, which was widely seen as a warning that Washington could take steps such as tightening sanctions in the event that the regime conducts a long-range rocket launch.
Apparently mindful of Pyongyang’s additional military provocations, US President Donald Trump has revived the threat of military action, and even said that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could lose "everything" if he engages in hostile acts.