(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 9-10, 12-13)
By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, July 8 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said Wednesday that Washington "strongly" supports inter-Korean cooperation, calling it an "important component" in creating a more stable environment on the Korean Peninsula.
Biegun, who doubles as Washington's top nuclear envoy, made the remarks as South Korea has been seeking U.S. cooperation in its push for cross-border cooperation projects stalled by international sanctions.
"The United States strongly supports inter-Korean cooperation, and we believe this plays an important component in creating a more stable environment on the Korean Peninsula," he told reporters soon after talks with Seoul's chief nuclear envoy, Lee Do-hoon.
"We look forward to fully supporting the government of Korea as it advances its goals with North Korea in inter-Korean cooperation," he added.
Biegun's remarks came amid speculation that Washington may be uneasy about Seoul's eagerness for inter-Korean cooperation amid the absence of substantive progress in the efforts to denuclearize the North.
Apparently referring to North Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui's reported statements, including one that rejected possibilities of talks with the U.S. as politically driven, Biegun said he does not take "directions" from Choe.
"I take my guidance from conclusions of several meetings that President Trump and Chairman Kim had over the last two years," Biegun said, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by his title of chairman of the State Affairs Commission.
"Their vision is what guides our team: a focus on creating a more durable peace on the Korean Peninsula, transforming relations on the Korean Peninsula, elimination of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and a brighter future for the Korean people," he said.
Biegun also said the U.S. is ready to resume negotiations with the North at any time.
"When Chairman Kim appoints a counterpart to me who is prepared and empowered to negotiate on these issues, they will find us ready at that very moment. We look forward to continuing our work for a peaceful outcome on Korean Peninsula," Biegun said.
"I believe this is very much possible. President Trump has given us his full support to continue this effort," he said.
The U.S. diplomat also pointed out that he did not request a visit with North Korea during his trip here this time, stressing the purpose of his visit was to "meet with our close friends and allies."
Before his talks with Lee, Biegun paid a courtesy call on Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and held the "strategic dialogue" with First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young.
Biegun arrived here on Tuesday for a three-day visit on an apparent mission to highlight the U.S. commitment to diplomacy with Pyongyang and forestall the escalation of tensions caused by Pyongyang's recent blowing up of an inter-Korean liaison office and warnings of now suspended military plans.