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2019-08-21 07:14:30

SEOUL (Reuters) - U.S. envoy on North Korea Stephen Biegun said on Wednesday he will not take up the post of ambassador to Russia but will remain focused on making progress on the denuclearization of North Korea amid stalled negotiations.

U.S. special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun talks with his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon during their meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/Pool

Biegun, in Seoul for talks with South Korean officials, said the United States is prepared to restart talks with North Korea as soon as North Korea is ready, in line with an agreement made by the two countries’ leaders in June.

“I will not be taking up a diplomatic posting in the Russian Federation and I will remain focused on making progress on North Korea,” Biegun told reporters after meeting with his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon.

Biegun, with his expertise in Russian affairs and command in the language, was under consideration to be U.S. President Donald Trump’s next ambassador to Russia, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters last week.

Fox News reported on Tuesday citing an administration official that Trump will nominate Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan for that post, currently held by Jon Huntsman, who has resigned amid speculation he plans to run for Utah governor.

Biegun leads working-level talks with North Korea which have stalled since a failed second summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi in February.

The two leaders met again in June at the inter-Korean border and agreed to reopen negotiations, but this has yet to happen.

“I am fully committed to this important mission, and we will get this done,” Biegun said. “We are prepared to engage as soon as we hear from our counterparts in North Korea.”

Trump said early this month that Kim had told him he was ready to resume talks and would stop ongoing missile tests as soon as U.S.-South Korea military drills end.

The allies wrapped up their largely computer-simulated, 10-day exercises on Tuesday, with which they replaced previous large-scale annual drills to expedite the nuclear talks.

Lee said Biegun’s visit was made at a “very timely manner,” and both sides discussed how to swiftly restart dialogue with North Korea and make “substantive progress”.

Pyongyang has condemned the joint exercises as rehearsal for invasion. On Wednesday, its official Rodong Sinmun said in a commentary that the latest drills were a “grave military provocation,” threatening to “develop, test and deploy” self-defensive measures.

Biegun arrived in Seoul after a stop in Japan, and is scheduled to travel to China on Thursday.

He said he “appreciated the strong and continued” trilateral cooperation involving Japan amid historical and trade tension between Seoul and Tokyo.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Paul Tait and Michael Perry


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