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N Korea at crossroads

Trump says US is keeping eye on North Korea

Special envoy awaits contact with Pyongyang

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, talks as Vice President Mike Pence looks on at a deregulation roundtable in the White House on Dec. 16.   © Reuters

NEW YORK/SEOUL -- U.S. President Donald Trump said Monday that North Korea is being watched closely, days after the country said it had successfully carried out a "crucial test" at a launch site for long-range rockets.

"I'd be disappointed if something would be in the works, and if it is, we'll take care of it. ... We're watching it very closely," Trump said in Washington.

Analysts have said Saturday's test may have involved technologies to improve intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the U.S.

Pyongyang has been ratcheting up pressure in recent weeks to seek a relaxation of American sanctions by a year-end deadline set by leader Kim Jong Un.

South Korea's central bank, the Bank of Korea, estimates that North Korean real gross domestic product decreased 4.1% on the year in 2018. This would follow the 3.5% decline of 2017 and mark the third time in four years that growth came in negative -- and would explain Kim's eagerness to have the sanctions lifted.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, shakes hands with U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun in Seoul on Dec. 16. (Yonhap/Kyodo)   © Kyodo

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul on Monday. Biegun said that Washington will continue doing its best to realize a nuclear-weapons-free and peaceful Korean Peninsula and that Seoul should keep up its own efforts, according to the South Korean government.

"We are here and you know how to reach us," Biegun said the same day, in a message to the North. He hopes to speak with North Korean officials at the border before leaving South Korea on Tuesday afternoon.

Washington and Pyongyang have not held an official meeting since Oct. 5, when Biegun met with chief North Korean negotiator Kim Myong Gil in Sweden. Kim at the time urged the U.S. to propose a compromise by the end of the year.

Biegun said Monday that Washington "does not have a deadline" for denuclearization talks. He criticized Pyongyang's needlessly provocative tone of recent weeks and expressed hopes that this Christmas will usher in a "season of peace."

Biegun signaled that the U.S. will not compromise on denuclearization. North Korea can choose a better path if it is willing, he said.

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