The three-day visit to South Korea (ROK) by United States deputy secretary of state Stephen Biegun ended with a meeting with ROK’s National Security Adviser, Suh Hoon, on July 9, Thursday. The high-level visit by the top US envoy came at a time when intra-Korea relations have hit rocky waters. On Thursday, ROK president Moon Jae-in’s office released a statement saying “Biegun emphasized the importance of reopening dialogue with North Korea.”
Biegun claimed to be in Seoul to discuss wide ranging matters with South Korean officials, but earlier reports suggested that officials expected North Korea to figure prominently in the talks. Biegun was earlier leading the Trump administration’s side of the working-level talks in various US-North Korea summits.
While the US has repeatedly attempted to downplay the significance of talks with North Korea, Biegun said on the day of his arrival to Seoul that the Trump administration is “open” to talks with the North. However, the US delegate and North Korea denied any intention to pursue talks anytime soon.
Recently, the armistice boundary between the two Koreas, called the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), witnessed skirmishes, with a United Nations report finding both sides to be guilty of cross-border violations. This was followed by North Korea calling out the South’s inability to control an anti-North propaganda blitzkrieg at the DMZ. North Korea later cut inter-governmental communications lines in May. The propaganda efforts were carried out by conservatives in the South Korean opposition along with North Korean fugitives, who have opposed the peace process.
The strain in intra-Korea relations was preceded by a breakdown in US-North Korea negotiations. North Korea withdrew from talks after the US sponsored UN resolutions against the government and also conducted joint military exercises with the South. This was followed by reinforcement of US sanctions.
The last set of negotiations between the US and North Korea were held in Sweden in October 2019. That summit and the ones before it have failed to yield any results, with North Korea complaining that the US has not offered any substantial commitment in exchange for denuclearization.