The United States and North Korea plan to hold a new round of talks in a third Asian nation next week to prepare for the second summit of their leaders, South Korea’s presidential office said Sunday.
President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump also plan to hold discussions soon about Trump’s upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un set for Feb. 27-28 in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said.
The two leaders are expected to speak by phone.
“We are going to announce details as soon as preparations are complete,” Kim said.
U.S. special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun held the first round of pre-summit negotiations with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Hyok-chol, during his three-day visit to Pyongyang from Wednesday through Friday.
Details of the negotiations were not available, but the two sides agreed to meet again before the summit.
Kim said a new round of talks will be held sometime “in the week beginning Feb. 17 in a third nation in Asia.” The spokesman did not provide further details.
Biegun returned to Seoul on Friday night and held a series of meetings with South Korean officials on Saturday, including Chung Eui-yong, chief of the presidential National Security Office. The U.S. envoy left for the U.S. on Sunday.
Kim quoted Chung as saying that the U.S.-North Korea talks are “moving well in a broad direction.”
“I heard Representative Biegun received a warm welcome in Pyongyang,” Kim said. “I heard that the North-U.S. talks this time were a useful opportunity where the North and the U.S. talked openly and fully about their specific positions on what they want in a very detailed manner.”
North Korea has stayed mum on the upcoming second summit between leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump, despite Washington’s announcement of the meeting’s date and venue, raising speculation about the reason behind its continued silence.
Last week, during his State of the Union address, Trump announced that his second summit with Kim will be held in Vietnam on Feb. 27-28. Over the weekend, he tweeted that the meeting will take place in Hanoi.
North Korea’s state media have not reported on the summit, nor have they mentioned a trip by U.S. nuclear envoy Stephen Biegun last week to Pyongyang for fine-tuning of details for the forthcoming summit.
Experts say it is not unusual for state media of the reclusive nation not to report on such diplomatic events. Ahead of last year’s first summit between Trump and Kim, the North’s media mentioned the forthcoming event in stories about criticizing the U.S., not as a separate story about the event itself.
Some experts see the current silence as a positive signal indicating that Pyongyang is currently focusing on the ongoing pre-summit preparatory talks, through which it appears to be making its stance sufficiently clear.
“North Korea has made clear its stance (on denuclearization) repeatedly and sufficiently before, including in leader Kim’s New Year’s Day speech. There seems to be no need to add anything to them (through media announcement),” Lim Eul-chul, a professor at the Institute for Far East Studies at Kyungnam University, said.
“If working-level talks do not go well, or their demands are not likely to go through, it could say something about the summit through the media. At least until now, the North appears to be indicating that its own stance and things are going on in a positive way,” he added.
Weeks before the first summit, held last June in Singapore, North Korea lambasted the U.S. for its unilateral demand for denuclearization, threatening to walk away from the planned first-ever meeting.
Trump subsequently cancelled the summit, only to take it back a day later, saying that “very productive talks” were underway between the two countries.
North Korea’s media have demanded the U.S. make good on its agreements reached during the Singapore summit at which Washington promised to provide security guarantees and “new relations” in exchange for complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
The second summit will likely be focused on concrete denuclearization steps North Korea could take and corresponding measures the U.S. could provide. Sanctions relief has been cited as possible major concession from Washington.
Returning from the Pyongyang trip, Biegun said that he had “productive” talks with the North Koreans but added that “some hard work” remains. He said that they will meet again.
Experts say North Korea is usually secretive about its leader’s summit schedules. Kim’s trip to China last month was not reported until after he had left for Beijing, though it was seen as an unprecedentedly fast disclosure.
They cautioned against attaching much meaning to Pyongyang’s current silence on the upcoming summit with the U.S., saying that the working-level talks are in their initial stage and that there is not much to be announced yet.
“The date and venue have been fixed and it is hard to believe that North Korea is holding back its announcement or reports on the summit due to any uncertainty,” Hong Min, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said.
“The North did not mention the first summit in June last year in advance by devoting articles or stories solely on the event. Instead, it used a special occasion, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang weeks before and his meeting with leader Kim, to report on the summit,” Hong added.
He noted that Biegun is not as highly ranked as Pompeo, nor did he meet leader Kim during his trip to Pyongyang last week, which warrants no media attention in the North. He said that North Korea might be trying to find a more appropriate opportunity and timing to report on the forthcoming summit.
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