December 9, 2020

By Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) – A senior U.S. envoy on Wednesday said the trust and alliance between Washington and Seoul will remain firm regardless of the upcoming change in administrations, South Korea’s foreign ministry said.

The remarks came as the 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, met with South Korea’s Deputy Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun.

Choi asked Biegun to play a bridging role to ensure the achievements the two allies have made together make progress before President-elect Joe Biden takes office next month.

Choi said the two allies have made significant achievements in the past three years under South Korean President Moon Jae-in, in building peace on the Korean peninsula, cooperation in COVID-19 responses, and relocation of U.S. military installations in South Korea.

Neither side publicly mentioned an ongoing multi-billion dollar dispute between the two allies over how much Seoul should pay toward maintaining the roughly 28,500 U.S. troops on the peninsula.

Biegun also met with South Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator Lee Do-hoon to discuss North Korea’s denuclearisation issues, the U.S. embassy in Seoul said in a Twitter post.

Biegun is also scheduled to meet a number of South Korean officials, including the foreign minister and the minister of unification, who handles relations with North Korea.

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

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.

The visit comes as North Korea lashed out at South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha for casting doubt over its claim that there were no coronavirus outbreaks there, warning of consequences for her “impudent” comment.

(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Michael Perry)

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