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Steve Biegun, the angler of denuclearization

Posted December. 26, 2018 07:38,   

Updated December. 26, 2018 07:38


“He acts as an angler who catches big fish,” a South Korean diplomat said. "In pursuit of resolving North Korean nuclear issues, he does not reveal any mood changes even if it is only natural that he gets angry at some point."

This remarks describe U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun, who delivered an appeasing message regarding North Korea over the recent South Korea-U.S. working level meetings and briefed U.S. President Donald Trump on the recent North Korean issues on Christmas Eve. Since he took office on Aug. 23, he has not met up with the North's Foreign Ministry official Choi Sun Hee, his North Korean counterpart. However, it has been assessed that his unwavering dedication to persuading North Korea in his own way has gained recognition gradually across the diplomatic arena.

Biegun has never been in direct negotiation with North Korea despite his experience in the U.S. Congress and the White House over 20 years. Before then, he served as vice president of International Governmental Relations for Ford Motor Company for 14 years. He also worked at the field of marketing in Russia but he is a newbie to North Korean issues. He has once been assessed to be put aside in discussion with North Korea due to several failed attempts to contact Choi at the working level.

However, he has begun rising as a key player since he visited Seoul on the occasion of the Seoul-Washington working level talks on Wednesday. To everyone’s surprise including the South Korean government, he proposed to review permission of U.S. citizens’ visit to North Korea for humanitarian purpose. Also, he made a sudden visit to Panmunjom. As such, he has sent out signals to North Korea in his way. On Oct. 29, he oozed his showmanship by visiting the Foreign Affairs Ministry with a North Korean map with English names of places written on it.

Given that CIA Korea Mission Center head Andrew Kim left his job of leading working level nuclear negotiations with North Korea, it is projected that North Korea will have no option but to contact Biegun. “He is not a diplomat nor a typical official. He can quit his job whenever he wants,” said another diplomatic source. "If he finds any need for negotiations, he has the guts to report directly to President Trump, not talking to State Secretary Mike Pompeo. Maybe North Korea also sees it as interesting."

In-Chan Hwang hic@donga.com