By Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL (Reuters) – A U.S. envoy arrived in South Korea on Tuesday in an effort to renew stalled nuclear talks with North Korea, hours after it issued a statement saying it has no intention of sitting down with the United States and told South Korea to “stop meddling”.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, who has led working-level talks with the North Koreans, landed at a U.S. military base south of Seoul, media reported, and was due to meet South Korean officials on Wednesday and Thursday.
Earlier on Tuesday, Kwon Jong Gun, director general for U.S. affairs at North Korea’s foreign ministry, accused South Korea of misinterpreting a North Korean statement dismissing an “untimely rumor” about another summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump.
North Korea said on Saturday it did not feel the need for a new summit, days after South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who had offered to mediate between Kim and Trump, suggested the two leaders meet again before the U.S. elections in November.
“It is just the time for (South Korea) to stop meddling in others’ affairs but it seems there is no cure or prescription for its bad habit,” Kwon said in a statement carried by the North’s official KCNA news agency.
“Explicitly speaking once again, we have no intention to sit face to face with the United States.”
Trump and Kim met for the first time in 2018 in Singapore, raising hopes for a negotiated end to North Korea’s nuclear program. But their second summit, in 2019 in Vietnam, and subsequent working-level negotiations fell apart.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Kwon’s statement reflected lingering inter-Korean tension and North Korea’s view that nuclear issues should be discussed only with the United States.
“It also suggested that North Koreans would ditch the past concept of negotiations where the South played a broker role, and won’t return to the table without major U.S. concessions,” Yang said.
Biegun said last week there was time for both sides to re-engage and “make substantial progress” but the novel coronavirus pandemic would make an in-person summit difficult before the U.S. presidential elections on Nov. 3.
The coronavirus complicated Biegun’s visit in a more personal way as well.
A newspaper reported that because of the outbreak, the envoy would not be visiting a Korean chicken soup restaurant that has been a regular stop on previous visits, and instead had arranged for the dish to be prepared at the U.S. ambassador’s residence.
Last month, North Korea abruptly raised tensions with South Korea and blew up a joint liaison office, just on its side of the border, before just as suddenly suspending plans for unspecified military actions.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Chris Reese, Howard Goller and Lincoln Feast)