A U.S. diplomat responsible for North Korea will participate in an informal conference next week in Singapore that North Korean officials have attended in the past but are not expected at this year, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday. Ambassador Joseph Yun’s trip was announced after North Korea on Tuesday tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that Pyongyang says can carry a large nuclear warhead and some experts believe has the range to reach Alaska. The test, the first of its kind by North Korea, triggered an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting and a call for global action by the United States.
Yun, the U.S. State Department’s special representative for North Korea policy, will travel to Singapore July 11-13 to attend the conference of the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue (NEACD), and will then travel to Myanmar. Yun negotiated Pyongyang’s release of Otto Warmbier, a U.S. student sentenced to 15 years hard labor for trying to steal an item with a propaganda slogan, who returned to the United States in a coma on June 13 and died June 19. While visiting the North to secure his release, Yun met three other Americans held there. The NEACD describes itself as a forum where officials from China, Japan, North and South Korea, Russia, and the United States can regularly meet, attending in a private capacity rather than as official government representatives.
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The University of California at San Diego’s Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC), which sponsors the conference, said North Korean officials are not expected this year. They came in 2016 and 2012, according to IGCC’s website. Katina Adams, a spokeswoman for the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, also said Washington understood the North Koreans would not take part this year and stressed that “Yun’s participation in NEACD in no way indicates the United States is prepared to engage with North Korea.” Asked if there were plans for Yun to meet North Korean officials during his trip, or if she could rule out such a meeting, Adams replied: “There are no sideline meetings on Ambassador Yun’s schedule that I am aware of.”
“The United States remains open to credible talks on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. However, conditions must change before there is any scope for talks to resume,” she said, without saying what had to happen to hold talks. The North Korean mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment. From Singapore, Yun will travel July 17-18 to Myanmar, where North Korea will also be on the agenda, Adams said. In September, the then top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Russel, told a congressional hearing there could be “a few residual pockets” in the Myanmar military who might still have interactions with North Korea.