|Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha|
|Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono|
|U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun|
Aimed at breaking an impasse in denuclearization talks with North Korea, U.S. special envoy for the North Stephen Biegun will visit Seoul for three days from today to discuss a variety of pending issues mostly related with the North.
Biegun's Seoul visit is drawing attention, as the top American nuclear envoy is arriving in the South Korean capital on the same day a scaled-down joint drill between South Korea and the U.S. is scheduled to finish.
This has raised hopes for smooth progress in arranging a schedule for nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang, as the latter has in recent weeks conducted a series of military provocations by firing the missiles and projectiles in an apparent show of discontent over the drill.
Earlier this month, U.S. President Donald Trump also added to these expectations, saying that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed his willingness to resume nuclear talks between the two countries "as soon as the joint exercises are over."
Before his departure from the U.S., Biegun declined to respond to questions from reporters about the still-deadlocked denuclearization talks.
Biegun's trips to both Seoul and Tokyo are seen as part of Washington's message to stress the trilateral security partnership to Pyongyang which seeks to gain negotiating leverage by aligning with China and Russia.
But some political analysts here said the chances remain uncertain for Washington and Pyongyang to resume their working-level talks in the near future.
"North Korea has yet to send any positive signals for earlier resumption in nuclear talks with the U.S.," said Lim Eul-chul, professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University.
"I would say there is a 50-50 chance for Washington and Pyongyang to restart their talks in the next few weeks in that the North has recently displayed no changes in its stance through its communication channels, such as propaganda media outlets," he said.
Park Won-gon, a professor of international politics at Handong Global University, concurred over the uncertain outlook for resumption of nuclear talks, as Washington sticks to its earlier position of reaching a "big deal" with North Korea.
Last week, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton also reiterated Washington's willingness to sign what's been described as a "one-shot big deal" with North Korea. The North, however, still prefers to pursue a phased step for its partial denuclearization and win limited sanctions relief in exchange.
Aside from the denuclearization agenda, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha is known to hold a meeting with her Japanese counterpart Taro Kono this week.
Starting today, foreign ministers from Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo plan to have meetings over a three-day period. The meetings take place at a crucial time when South Korea and Japan are in a months-long trade feud due to their historical dispute on issues regarding compensation for surviving South Korean victims of wartime forced labor.
While Seoul is planning to extend a joint military agreement, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), with Tokyo to deal with the North's military threats, Foreign Minister Kang is set to ask her Japanese counterpart to reverse Japan's move to remove South Korea from its list of most trusted trading partners.
The pact is viewed as a cornerstone of the trilateral security alliance among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo. Under the agreement, South Korea must notify Japan of its decision over whether to extend the pact before Saturday.
Defense cost-sharing negotiation
Timothy Betts, acting U.S. deputy assistant secretary, arrived in Seoul on Sunday for a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Chang Won-sam scheduled to be held Tuesday at the foreign ministry headquarters in Seoul.
The meeting between the two representatives who led the 10th round of negotiations for the defense cost-sharing agreement, called the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), will prelude the 11th round of negotiations. Seoul and Washington have yet to name the representatives for the 11th negotiations. The 10th SMA will expire at the end of this year. A detailed timeline and agenda for the talks have not been fixed.
Diplomatic sources said the U.S. was likely to ask Seoul to add a new category that would cover additional costs in operating U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) troops, such as staging the joint military drills, rotating U.S. military equipment and deploying U.S. strategic weapons to the Korean Peninsula.
Diplomatic and military sources here said there are some possibilities that the U.S. might ask South Korea to pay $5 billion (6.5 trillion won), which is more than five times the 1.04 trillion won for this year.
Some media reports said the increase might have included the costs for operating U.S. maritime missions in the Strait of Hormuz and the South China Sea, citing anonymous diplomatic sources, but experts on this matter said it would be impossible without Seoul's agreement to change the current Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the two countries.
"The costs for the U.S. maritime missions in the Strait of Hormuz and the South China Sea cannot be included for Seoul's cost-sharing burden, according to the SMA negotiations based on the SOFA, which was originally created to cover the costs for facilities and areas for stationing the USFK," said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. He said it was unlikely that Seoul would agree to such an increase.