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Biegun may hold secret meeting with NK in Beijing: ex-unification minister

The US point man on North Korea, Stephen Biegun, could hold a secret meeting with North Korean officials when he travels to China later this week, a former South Korean unification minister said Wednesday.

The State Department announced earlier that Biegun, US special representative for North Korea policy, will visit Beijing on Thursday and Friday "to discuss the need to maintain international unity on North Korea."

The previously unannounced trip, which follows his visits to Seoul and Tokyo, spawned speculation about whether it has anything to do with Biegun's offer to meet with North Korean officials to talk about ways to move the stalled nuclear talks forward.

Stephen Biegun (AP-Yonhap)
Stephen Biegun (AP-Yonhap)

Biegun publicly made the proposal during a news conference in Seoul on Monday, apparently offering to meet with the North Koreans at the border village of Panmunjom while he was in the South. The North has not reacted to the offer publicly yet.

"Special Representative Biegun's plan to go to Beijing must mean that there is a change in North Korea's situation," former Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun, currently executive vice chairperson of the presidential National Unification Advisory Council, said during a council meeting.

Jeong also said that while a meeting at the border village of Panmunjom would naturally be exposed to the public, the two sides could hold a secret meeting in Beijing

North Korea has been ramping up pressure on the US, threatening to take a "new way" if Washington fails to meet the deadline imposed by Pyongyang, strongly suggesting that otherwise, it could restart tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons.

An ICBM launch or a nuclear test would represent a blow to US President Donald Trump ahead of next year's presidential election as he has boasted of the North's suspension of such weapons tests as one of his key diplomatic achievements. (Yonhap)