Top South Korean negotiators left for the United States Thursday to brief their American counterparts on the outcome of their historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un earlier this week.
South Korean National Security Office Head Chung Eui-yong revealed few details of the trip as he boarded a plane at Seoul’s Incheon Airport for a brief two-day visit to Washington.
« The most urgent issue is to make sure the United States and North Korea will engage in talks, » Chung said, as he departed with National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon.
A White House official told CNN that Chung will meet US national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster at the White House Thursday afternoon. Afterward, the South Korean delegation is expected to brief other senior officials from the US government. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is out of the country on his first official trip to sub-Saharan Africa.
The two diplomats recently returned to South Korea from an unprecedented meeting with North Korea’s Kim in Pyongyang, believed to be the leader’s first face-to-face talks with South Korean officials since he took power in 2011.
The meeting led to plans for an April summit when Kim will meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the demilitarized zone separating the two countries.
On Tuesday, Chung announced the North Koreans were prepared to discuss denuclearization with the US as long as their security was assured, prompting tentative optimism in Washington.
« I think that their statement and the statements coming out of South Korea and North Korea have been very positive, » US President Donald Trump said Tuesday. « I think that they are sincere. … I hope they’re sincere. We’re going to soon find out. »
Robert Kelly, associate professor of political science at Pusan National University, told CNN the level of enthusiasm for talks in the United States could depend on how the South Korean government sells them to the US president.
« We’re a year and a half into US President Trump’s administration and it’s pretty clear Trump wants the publicity and the wins, » he said. « If the South Korea and North Korea deal can be marketed to him in those terms, I think he’ll be on board. »
If any North Korean talks with the United States do take place, there’s a possibility they could be handled by an outside expert, an administration official told CNN Wednesday, due to the depleted nature of the US State Department.
The top diplomat dealing with North Korea, Joseph Yun, is set to retire from his role at the State Department this week. Additionally, the US currently has no ambassador in Seoul, and no nominees have been announced.
Officials told CNN the administration was reaching outside the government to find an expert how could help handle the North Korean regime, alongside Tillerson.
But State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on February 27 dismissed claims the US lacked diplomatic experience in the region.