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US, N. Korea in behind-the-scenes talks over third summit

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South Korean leader Moon insists there is no 'stalemate' between Americans and North Koreans

SEOUL : The United States is in behind-the-scenes talks with North Korea over a possible third summit and has proposed working-level negotiations that have been stalled since the second such meeting in February, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said yesterday.

Mr Moon, in written answers to questions posed by visiting foreign journalists, said there was no reason to talk of a "stalemate" just because there had been no official dialogue aimed at the denuclearisation of North Korea.

US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held their second meeting in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi in February but failed to reach a deal due to differences between US calls for denuclearisation and North Korean demands for sanctions relief.

"Both sides have been engaged in dialogue in regard to a third summit," Mr Moon said.

"It is noteworthy that the behind-the-scenes talks have been preceded by the mutual understanding of each other's position gained through the Hanoi summit."

The US had made a proposal for working-level talks, Mr Moon said, urging North Korea to return to the negotiating table "at the earliest date possible".

North Korea has pursued nuclear and missile programmes for years in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions and United Nations and US sanctions.

Mr Moon did not specify when and how the US proposal was made. But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that a recent exchange of letters between Mr Trump and Mr Kim boosted hopes for a restart of talks, calling it a "very real possibility".

Mr Stephen Biegun, the US special envoy for North Korea who led working-level talks ahead of the Hanoi summit, is visiting Seoul from today for meetings with South Korean officials before joining Mr Trump, who is due in South Korea this weekend.

There has been little progress since the Hanoi summit, with Pyongyang resuming some limited testing of weapons and being aloof toward dialogue offers both from Washington and Seoul.

There is also a grey area over talk about denuclearisation of the "Korean peninsula", which, by North Korea's reckoning, includes the regional US nuclear umbrella protecting Japan and South Korea.

The United States wants only North Korea to denuclearise.

Mr Moon said Mr Kim had told him he wanted to "finalise a denuclearisation process as soon as possible and to concentrate on economic development".

Mr Moon called for the North to scrap the "passive stance" it has presented since the Hanoi summit and take action on its past promises.

"By responding to the US proposal for working-level negotiations, it can also show its determination to denuclearise," he said. - REUTERS