US envoy hopes N. Korea responds positively on offered talks

SEOUL, South Korea — President Joe Biden’s special envoy for North Korea said Monday he hopes to see a positive reaction from the North soon on U.S. offers for talks after the North Korean leader ordered officials to prepare for both dialogue and confrontation.

Sung Kim, Biden’s special representative for North Korea, is in Seoul to speak with South Korean and Japanese officials about the U.S.’s stalled diplomacy with the North over its nuclear program and U.S.-led sanctions.

The trilateral talks followed a North Korean political conference last week where leader Kim Jong Un called for stronger efforts to improve his nation’s economy, further battered last year by pandemic border closures and now facing worsening food shortages.

After his meeting with senior South Korean diplomat Noh Kyu-duk, the U.S. envoy Sung Kim said the allies took note of the North Korean leader’s comments and are hoping the North will give a “positive response to our proposal for a meeting soon.”

Sung Kim spoke later with Noh and Japanese nuclear envoy Takehiro Funakoshi over the stalled push to resolve the nuclear standoff with North Korea. “South Korea and the U.S will maintain close cooperation to keep the situation in the Korean Peninsula stable and find a way to resume the dialogue with North Korea as soon as possible,” Sung Kim told reporters.

North Korea’s economic setbacks followed the collapse of Kim Jong Un’s ambitious summitry with then-President Donald Trump in 2019, when the Americans rejected the North Koreans’ demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of their nuclear capabilities.

Kim Jong Un in recent political speeches has threatened to bolster his nuclear deterrent and claimed that the fate of diplomacy and bilateral relations depends on whether Washington abandons what he calls hostile policies.

U.S. officials have suggested Biden would take the middle ground between Trump’s direct dealings with Kim and President Barack Obama’s policy of “strategic patience.” But some experts say the North likely must take concrete steps toward denuclearization before the Biden administration would ease any sanctions.

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