US envoy says time running short for North Korea deal

Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un

FILE – In this June 30, 2019, file photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, and U.S. President Donald Trump prepare to shake hands at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea. On Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, North Korea’s supreme decision-making institution has lashed out at planned U.S.-South Korean drills and warned that the United States will face “bigger threat and harsh suffering” if it ignores North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s end-of-year deadline to salvage the nuclear diplomacy. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. official in charge of talks with North Korea said Wednesday that time is running short to achieve a deal, but not because of the end-of-year deadline set by the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un.

A crisis or any other distraction could derail talks to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program despite the historic meetings between Kim and President Donald Trump, according to Stephen Biegun, the administration’s special representative for North Korea.

“The window is still open but they need to seize the moment,” Biegun told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which was holding a hearing on his nomination to be deputy secretary of state.

Biegun, who would still be in charge of North Korea even if he is confirmed for the deputy position, said Kim should grant more authority to the officials who negotiate on his behalf in order to make more progress.

So far, though, Biegun said the U.S. has seen no “concrete evidence” that North Korea intends to eliminate its nuclear weapons.

Negotiations faltered after the U.S. rejected North Korean demands for broad sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of the North’s nuclear capabilities.

The North Korean leader set the end of year as a deadline for the U.S. to offer an acceptable deal to salvage the talks.

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