North Korea rejects talks ahead of US envoy's arrival in Seoul

North Korea ridiculed South's nonsensical calls for revived negotiations between US and Pyongyang when it lost its relevance as a mediator

SEOUL: North Korea on Tuesday repeated it has no immediate intent to resume dialogue with the United States hours before U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun was to arrive in South Korea for discussions on the stalled nuclear diplomacy.

In a statement released through Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency, senior North Korean foreign ministry official Kwon Jong Gun also ridiculed South Korea’s “nonsensical” calls for revived negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang when it has lost its relevance as a mediator.

The State Department said Biegun, who is also President Donald Trump’s special representative for North Korea, during his meetings with officials in South Korea and Japan this week will discuss allied cooperation on a range of issues, including the “final, fully verified denuclearization” of North Korea.

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have met three times since embarking on their high-stakes nuclear diplomacy in 2018. But negotiations have faltered since their second summit in February last year in Vietnam, where the Americans rejected North Korean demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capability.

Amid the stalemate in talks, North Korea has repeatedly said in recent months that it would no longer gift Trump with high-profile meetings he could boast of as his foreign policy achievements unless it gets something substantial in return.

The North has also been dialing up pressure on the South, cutting off virtually all cooperation and blowing up an inter-Korean liaison office in its territory last month, following months of frustration over Seoul’s unwillingness to defy U.S.-led sanctions and restart joint economic projects that would help its broken economy.

“Explicitly speaking once again, we have no intention to sit face to face with U.S.,” Kwon said in the statement.

Some analysts believe North Korea will avoid serious talks with the Americans for now and instead focus on pressuring the South in a bid to increase its bargaining power before an eventual return to negotiations after the U.S. presidential election in November. They say the North likely doesn’t want to make any major commitments or concessions when there is a chance U.S. leadership could change.

Kwon’s statement came days after North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Sun Hui, whom Biegun had described as his potential counterpart when talks resume, insisted the North won’t resume negotiations unless Washington discards what it describes as “hostile” policies toward Pyongyang. She criticized the Trump administration for considering the diplomacy with the North as “nothing more than a tool for grappling its political crisis.”

Without naming him outright, Kwon also took a jab at South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who in a video conference with European leaders last week expressed hope that Trump and Kim would meet again before the U.S. presidential elections.

“(Choe’s) statement also mentioned the meddlesome man who had again indicated his intention to arbitrate between the DPRK and the U.S.,” Kwon said, referring to North Korea by its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“We feel sorry to see (the South) trying so hard to become the ‘mediator’ but it may try as much as it wants if it cherishes so strong wish to try it to the end. Time will show whether its efforts will succeed or it will only suffer a loss and ridicule.”

Biegun will meet with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha on Wednesday before leaving for Japan on Thursday, Kang’s ministry said.

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