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World News

U.S. envoy arrives in South Korea amid stalled efforts to restart talks with the North

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun talks with his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon during their meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/Pool

SEOUL (Reuters) - Washington’s top North Korea envoy arrived in South Korea on Tuesday for what is expected to be his last visit, with little prospect for restarting talks with Pyongyang before incoming U.S. President Joe Biden takes office next month.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, who helped lead unsuccessful efforts to turn U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal outreach to North Korea into progress in denuclearisation talks, arrived at a U.S. military air base south of Seoul at the start of a four-day visit.

Biegun is scheduled to meet a number of South Korean officials, including the foreign minister; the minister of unification, who handles relations with North Korea; and the country’s nuclear envoy, among other officials.

The Yonhap news agency has said Biegun may also pay a courtesy call on South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

The visit may be the last for Biegun in his current role, after Trump lost his bid for reelection to Democratic challenger Biden, who will take office in January.

A former auto executive who was tapped as the U.S. Special Representative for North Korea in 2018 before later being named as deputy secretary of state, Biegun tried to find common ground between an American president seeking a big foreign policy win and a North Korean leader who has yet to hand him one.

Amid Trump’s unpredictable moves, Biegun won admirers in South Korea, where one former senior diplomat said he clearly has experience in handling complex issues and knows how Washington works.

In the end, however, the talks with North Korea championed by Biegun and his counterparts in Seoul have been stalled since late 2019.

While Biegun has said he is ready for discussions at any time, North Korea says it won’t return to the negotiating table until the United States drops its hostile policies.

Editing by Jacqueline Wong

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