U.S. special representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun, left, shakes hands with South Korea's Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Lee Do-hoon during a meeting to discuss North Korea nuclear issues at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, Pool)

US envoy confident about achieving N. Korea denuclearization

October 29, 2018 - 1:02 am

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The top U.S. envoy for North Korea on Monday expressed confidence about achieving North Korea's nuclear disarmament, despite worries about the slow pace of nuclear diplomacy in recent weeks.

Meeting with his South Korean counterpart in Seoul, Stephen Biegun said that Washington and Seoul have a shared goal of ending seven decades of hostility on the Korean Peninsula.

"The primary requirement for us to get to that endpoint is to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea," Biegun said. "So I am absolutely confident that this is within the reach, and I think our two presidents are singularly focused on this goal."

South Korea's chief nuclear envoy Lee Do-hoon said that "denuclearization process is at a critical juncture and we need to meet up as often as possible."

Since entering nuclear talks earlier this year, North Korea has taken some measures like halting nuclear and missile tests and dismantling its nuclear testing site. The United States suspended some its annual military drills with South Korea, but is reluctant to provide the North with big political or economic benefits unless it takes more serious disarmament steps. The North's closure of its nuclear testing site was watched by foreign journalists, not examined by experts.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made his fourth visit to North Korea, and he was coordinating with allies Japan and South Korea to arrange a second summit between President Donald Trump and Kim. The moves brightened prospect for related high-profile U.S.-North Korean exchanges, but no major breakthrough has since been reported.

U.S. officials later said Trump will likely have his second meeting with Kim early next year. Their first summit in June in Singapore produced the North's vague disarmament pledge that didn't include any detailed timetable or roadmap for North Korean steps.

Separate from nuclear diplomacy, the two Koreas, in coordination with the American-led U.N. Command based in the South, are taking steps to lower military tension between the rivals. The steps, reached last month during an inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang, included disarming the Koreas' border village, clearing mines at a frontline area to launch joint searches for Korean War dead and establishing buffer zones along the border.

Last week, the Koreas and the U.N. Command finished withdrawing weapons from guard posts at the border village of Panmunjom. The three sides later jointly verified the demilitarization work and the guard posts were sealed on both sides, the U.N. Command said in a statement Monday.

A trilateral meeting is set for Tuesday to discuss the standards of interaction, verification review and surveillance, it said.

The U.N. Command is tasked with overseeing an armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.

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Associated Press video journalist Yong Jun Chang contributed to this report from Seoul.

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