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US, DPRK consider exchanging envoys

By PAN MENGQI | China Daily | Updated: 2019-02-20 09:31 菲律宾申博太阳城官网

The United States is considering setting up a liaison office in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, a symbolic move that analysts said could show how relations between Washington and Pyongyang have seriously begun to thaw.

A Monday report from CNN quoted a top US official, saying that Washington wants a senior diplomat in Pyongyang to set up the office, which would serve as US quasi-embassy but with stripped-down functions. The hope is that the DPRK, in return, would send its own envoys to the US.

It would be the first major step toward establishing diplomatic relations between the two nations.

Establishing new bilateral relations was one of the commitments made by US President Donald Trump and DPRK's top leader Kim Jong-un at their first summit in Singapore in June. The pair are expected to focus on fleshing out Kim's commitment to complete denuclearization through corresponding measures from the US in their second summit scheduled in Vietnam next week.

Meanwhile, the Republic of Korea's Yonhap News agency, citing a diplomatic source on Tuesday, said a liaison office alone may be insufficient to draw more concessions from the DPRK.

"Pyongyang doesn't regard an end-of-war declaration or the installation of a liaison office as a corresponding measure of equal worth as the dismantlement of its Yongbyon nuclear facility," the source said.

Lee Hae-chan, head of the ROK's ruling Democratic Party, also told reporters in Washington that the DPRK appears more interested in economic concessions, such as relief from international sanctions, the reopening of an inter-Korean industrial complex and the resumption of tours to its scenic Mount Kumgang.

"A liaison office would go hand in hand with an end-of-war declaration, but my guess is that they come later on the list of (the DPRK's) priorities," he said.

Shi Yuanhua, a professor of Korean Peninsula Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said with the momentum and incentives from both sides to make concrete steps toward peace, the news of exchanging liaison officers would be a strong gesture showing that both Pyongyang and Washington want to continue peace talks at all levels.

"It is a symbolic gesture to demonstrate the US-DPRK relations have improved. But the question now, though, is if Trump and Kim will actually reach a deal in Vietnam on Feb 27 and 28, which is an important preliminary step," he said.

An AFP report said that the DPRK special representative for the US, Kim Hyok-chol, arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, apparently en route to Vietnam to meet his Washington counterpart ahead of the US-DPRK summit.

Kim Hyok-chol and his US counterpart Stephen Biegun were engaged in three days of talks in Pyongyang earlier this month, exploring each side's positions on denuclearization ahead of the much anticipated meeting.

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