US ‘prepared to engage’ with North Korea in nuclear talks

(FILES) In this file photo taken on July 24, 2019 people watch a television news showing a file footage of a meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un which held at the truce village of Panmunjom, at a railway station in Seoul. – How people stay informed in the Hermit State of North Korea is always a question, and US President Donald Trump may have answered it on August 15, 2019: by Twitter alerts. Trump said it only took Kim Jong Un 10 minutes to respond to his tweeted proposal for a landmark meeting in June at the border of North and South Korea. That suggested that someone in Pyongyang — perhaps Kim himself — keeps a minute-by-minute watch on what the US tweet master-in-chief is saying on social media. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP)

The United States is ready to sit down with North Korea to resume long-awaited working-level nuclear talks, a US envoy said Wednesday.

Nuclear discussions between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since a second summit in Hanoi in February ended without an agreement over differences on the extent of denuclearisation and sanctions relief in return.

But anticipation for renewed dialogue has been on the rise after the US and its security ally South Korea wrapped up their two-week joint military drill on Tuesday.

“We are prepared to engage as soon as we hear from our counterparts in North Korea,” said Stephen Biegun, the US special representative for North Korea, after his meeting with South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon in Seoul.

The comments come amid speculation that Americans could meet with North Koreans at the demilitarized zone dividing the North and South to kick start working-level talks during Biegun’s three-day stay in Seoul, which began Tuesday.

The US envoy denied media reports he would soon take a diplomatic posting in Russia, saying he remained “focused on making progress” with North Koreans and “fully committed” to the goal of the denuclearisation in the North.

Pyongyang considers the joint military exercise by the allies a rehearsal for invasion and has routinely expressed anger at the war games.

The drills are a “grave military provocation” and a “challenge to and mockery of our efforts for peace”, the North’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said Wednesday in a commentary.

The piece also said that the North’s own “measures for bolstering up military capability for self-defence” are consequently “very just ones”, in reference to a slew of missile launches in recent weeks.

It added the drills are an “open disregard and wanton violation” of the joint statement adopted in the first US-North summit in Singapore last year, in which US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to pursue new US-North relations for “peace and prosperity”.

North Korea last week called South Korean President Moon Jae-in an “impudent guy rare to be found” for hoping to resume inter-Korean talks while continuing military drills with the US.

Washington stations nearly 30,000 troops in the South to defend it from its neighbour.

Trump tweeted earlier this month North Korean leader Kim expressed his hope — in a letter hand-delivered to him — for resuming dialogue “as soon as the joint U.S./South Korea joint exercise is over”.

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