|Sung Kim, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, arrives at Incheon International Airport, Saturday. Yonhap|
By Kang Seung-woo
The visit of Sung Kim, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, to Seoul is raising questions over whether Washington will offer enticements to Pyongyang in a bid to normalize stalled nuclear negotiations.
Since February 2019, when the U.S.-North Korea summit ended without reaching a deal on denuclearization, the totalitarian state has continued to refuse engaging both the U.S. and South Korea, thereby hampering inter-Korean relations.
Kim, who was appointed to the post last month, arrived here, Saturday, on a five-day trip, during which he is scheduled to sit down with his South Korean counterpart, Noh Kyu-duk, and hold three-way talks that will also include Japan's nuclear envoy, Takehiro Funakoshi, Monday.
The planned talks come days after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said his country should be ready for dialogue and more importantly, confrontation with the U.S., stressing the stable control of the Korean Peninsula situation in his first message toward the Joe Biden administration.
Upon his arrival at Incheon International Airport, Kim said he was looking forward to "productive meetings" with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts.
"Ahead of Kim's visit, the North Korean leader made conciliatory remarks. In that respect, depending on what messages the U.S. nuclear envoy will deliver, whether stalled nuclear talks between the U.S. and North Korea will resume will be decided," said Cheong Seong-chang, director of Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute.
The U.S. side may consider downsizing or suspending its combined military drills with South Korea, scheduled for August among other "carrots" for the resumption of nuclear talks. The North Korean regime has strongly denounced the annual exercises, held biannually in spring and summer, as a rehearsal for invasion.
Last month, President Moon Jae-in also mentioned the impossibility of a full-scale drill, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, although many believe that his reference had to do with his last-ditch efforts to improve inter-Korean ties before his presidency ends in May of next year.
In addition, a possible provision of COVID-19 vaccines to North Korea may be on the agenda during a series of meetings.
Last week, Moon said during his trip to Austria that South Korea will push proactively for cooperation to provide COVID-19 vaccine supplies to North Korea if the northern neighbor agrees. In addition, the U.S. has decided to donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to developing countries, including North Korea.
Given that the North Korean leader warned of the country's food shortage, the U.S. envoy may discuss food provision to the North, raising speculation that the impoverished country may agree to resume talks.