- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Trump administration is pushing behind the scenes to regain momentum in nuclear talks with North Korea, dispatching a newly-appointed envoy to the region this week who says there’s “hard work” ahead, but also a “tremendous opportunity” that must not be wasted.

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun, whom the administration appointed three weeks ago, met Tuesday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul to put his support behind a major meeting between Mr. Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un slated for next week.

A statement circulated by the South Korean embassy in Washington on Wednesday said Mr. Moon called on Mr. Biegun to “take good advantage of the yet-again emerging opportunity for North Korea-U.S. talks.”

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While it was unclear whether Mr. Biegun will meet with any North Korean officials while in the region this week, State Department officials said he’s poised to push forward in talks with Pyongyang after a recent stall in the Trump administration’s pursuit of diplomacy.

Hardliners in the administration, including National Security Advisor John Bolton and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, publicly lamented last month that North Korea has show no serious sign of abandoning its nuclear weapons. President Trump also made headlines at the time when he suddenly canceled a planned visit to Pyongyang by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Mr. Beigun’s visit to South Korea, as well as to Japan and China this week, mark the first major diplomatic move by the new Special Representative — and the first official U.S. visit to the region relating to North Korea — since Mr. Pompeo’s trip was canceled.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters that Mr. Biegun had sent her a note Tuesday saying: “We have some hard work to do, we also have a tremendous opportunity. We need to do everything that we can to make the most of this moment. The beginning – the beginning half is done and this is just the beginning, so what we need to do is continue finishing the job.”

The mention of “the beginning” was apparently a reference to the Trump administration’s push over the past year for a diplomatic solution to the North Korea nuclear crisis — a push that culminated in June with a face-to-face meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim in Singapore.

While the two men signed a joint statement at the Singapore summit declaring a broad commitment to denuclearization on the Korean peninsula, concrete action has yet to grow from the statement.

The State Department announced on August 23 that Mr. Pompeo had appointed Mr. Biegun as U.S. Special Representative to take the lead on “efforts to achieve President Trump’s goal of the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.”

Mr. Biegun was previously vice president of international governmental affairs at Ford Motor Company, a position he held after a career in Washington where he once served as national security advisor to former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican. He also worked as executive secretary of the National Security Council during the former President George W. Bush’s first term in office.

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