The United States’ special representative to North Korea, Stephen Biegun, has urged Pyongyang to resume stalled denuclearization talks, as tensions continue to rise between the two countries.
Speaking at a news conference during a trip to South Korea on Monday, Biegun addressed North Korean authorities directly, saying, “It is time for us to do our jobs. Let’s get this done. We are here and you know how to reach us.”
Biegun met with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Do-hoon, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in this week, in an attempt to salvage the talks that fell apart in February after President Donald Trump cut short a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Since then, North Korea has threatened to suspend talks entirely, and Kim set an end-of-year deadline for nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration.
However, Biegun said Monday that there is no deadline for the US’ negotiations with North Korea, and that the two countries should aim to reach “balanced agreements,” adding that he hoped Christmas would “usher in a season of peace.”
North Korea has suggested it has different ideas for the holiday season — earlier this month, Pyongyang warned the US to prepare for a “Christmas gift,” which some have interpreted as a sign that the country could resume long-distance missile tests.
Days later, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations said denuclearization was off the negotiation table. On Saturday, Pyongyang announced a second successful “test,” carried out at the country’s Sohae satellite launching site. It followed a similar test on December 7 that was labeled by North Korea as “very important.”
The past few weeks have also seen the resumption of a war of words between Trump and Kim. A senior member of the North Korean government again described Trump as a “dotard” after Trump called Kim “Rocket Man,” a nickname he coined during the standoff between Pyongyang and Washington in 2017.
Both sides have bristled at the insults; North Korea’s first vice foreign minister expressed “displeasure” at Trump’s comments, while Biegun condemned North Korea’s statements about the US and its allies as “hostile,” “negative,” and “so unnecessary.”
He also seemed to address North Korea’s recent tests on Monday, warning that any North Korean provocation in the coming days would be “most unhelpful in achieving lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
“But it does not have to be this way,” he said. “It is not yet too late.”
Diplomats from Pyongyang and Washington have been attempting to negotiate a deal that would see Kim give up the country’s nuclear weapons and the ballistic missiles used to deliver them in exchange for relief from punishing US and UN sanctions that have crippled the North Korean economy.
Though North Korea first detonated a nuclear device in 2006, Pyongyang successfully test-fired missiles that could potentially hit the US mainland with a nuclear warhead for the first time in 2017 — upping the stakes significantly and increasing the urgency to reach a peaceful solution to a decades-long struggle.
There appeared to be slow, small signs of progress, as Trump and Kim touted their friendly relationship and met three times in the hopes of striking a deal. But since the talks have stalled, North Korea has continually blamed the US for the lack of progress in nuclear negotiations.
Speaking in London on the sidelines of a NATO summit earlier this month, Trump said “we’ll see what happens” when it comes to North Korea.