July 5, 2017 / 7:29 PM / 3 years ago

U.S. diplomat heads to Asia but no talks with North Korea scheduled

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. diplomat responsible for North Korea will participate in an informal conference next week in Singapore, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday, but North Korean officials, who have attended in the past, will not join this year.

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joseph Yun (R) answers questions from reporters following meeting with Japan and South Korea chief nuclear negotiators to talk about North Korean issues at the Iikura guest house in Tokyo, Japan April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Yamanaka/Pool

Ambassador Joseph Yun’s trip was announced after North Korea on Tuesday tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that Pyongyang says can carry a large nuclear warhead and some experts believe has the range to reach Alaska.

The test, the first of its kind by North Korea, triggered an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting and a call for global action by the United States.

Yun, the U.S. State Department’s special representative for North Korea policy, will be in Singapore July 11 to 13 to attend the conference of the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue (NEACD), and will then travel to Myanmar.

The North Korean mission to the United Nations said Pyongyang was not sending a delegation to the dialogue.

Yun negotiated Pyongyang’s release of Otto Warmbier, a U.S. student sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor for trying to steal an item with a propaganda slogan, who returned to the United States in a coma on June 13 and died June 19. While visiting the North to secure his release, Yun met three other Americans held there.

The NEACD describes itself as a forum where officials from China, Japan, North and South Korea, Russia and the United States can regularly meet, attending in a private capacity rather than as official government representatives.

The University of California at San Diego’s Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC), which sponsors the conference, said North Korean officials attended the forum in 2016 and 2012.

Asked if there were plans for Yun to meet North Korean officials during his trip, or if she could rule out such a meeting, Katina Adams, a spokeswoman for the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, replied: “There are no sideline meetings on Ambassador Yun’s schedule that I am aware of.”

“The United States remains open to credible talks on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. However, conditions must change before there is any scope for talks to resume,” she said, without saying what had to happen to hold talks.

From Singapore, Yun will travel July 17 and 18 to Myanmar, where North Korea will also be on the agenda, Adams said.

In September, the then top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Russel, told a congressional hearing there could be “a few residual pockets” in the Myanmar military who might still have interactions with North Korea.

Reporting by Arshad Mohammed and David Brunnstrom; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by James Dalgleish and Peter Cooney

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