North Korea says resolve for denuclearisation may falter but Pompeo lauds progress

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Kim Yong Chol, second from right, a North Korean senior ruling party official and former intelligence chief, for a second day of talks at the Park Hwa Guest House in Pyongyang, North Korea, Saturday, July 7, 2018. Andrew Harnik/Pool via Reuters

SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) – North Korea said on Saturday its resolve to give up its nuclear programmes may falter after talks with the United States in Pyongyang, contradicting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said progress had been made on nearly all key issues.

The contrast between Pyongyang and Washington cast a cloud over future negotiations, raising questions over whether the North is committed to abandoning the nuclear programmes it has developed for decades and sees as key to its survival.

Pompeo, who had a day and a half of talks in Pyongyang, had sought to hammer out details on how to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear programmes, such as a timeline to denuclearisation and a plan on declaring its related facilities.

But the result of the negotiations was that “We can’t but be very apprehensive,” and Pyongyang was “regretful” about the attitude and position presented by the U.S. side, a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

The official accused Pompeo’s delegation of insisting on unilateral complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation (CVID), which counters the spirit of the unprecedented summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12.

‘GANGSTER-LIKE DEMAND’

“We expected that the U.S. side would bring itself with a constructive proposal,” the spokesman said, without elaborating.

“But, the U.S. side came up only with its unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearisation just calling for CVID, declaration and verification.”

The North Korean spokesman said a “shortcut” to a nuclear-free Korean peninsula was through a step-by-step approach under which both sides took steps at the same time.

“The high-level talks this time brought us in a dangerous situation where we may be shaken in our unshakable will for denuclearisation, rather than consolidating trust between the DPRK and the U.S.”

There was no immediate comment on the KCNA statement from the State Department.

‘LIKE A ROBBER’

As Pompeo departed Pyongyang, he said he had made progress “on almost all of the central issues” in the talks, though more work remained to be done.

Pompeo said he spent “a good deal of time” discussing a denuclearisation timeline and the declaration of the North’s nuclear and missile facilities.

“These are complicated issues but we made progress on almost all of the central issues. Some places a great deal of progress, other places there’s still more work to be done,” he said, according to a pool report from U.S. reporters who accompanied him to Pyongyang.

“This is classic North Korean negotiating tactics: Pocket concessions from the United States while stringing our discussions on their own commitments,” said Abraham Denmark, a senior defence official for East Asia under former President Barack Obama.

“This is a rejection of U.S. demands for unilateral denuclearisation by North Korea, and a clear message that the U.S. will need to give up more to make progress.”

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Pompeo did not meet Kim as he had done on his two previous visits to North Korea this year, but handed over a letter to him from Trump.

A letter from Kim to Trump was also delivered to Pompeo through Kim Yong Chol, a top North Korean party official and former spy agency chief, who was Pompeo’s interlocutor and played a key role together in arranging the Singapore summit.

In the letter, Kim Jong Un expressed his “expectation and conviction” that the sentiments of good faith between the two leaders would be further consolidated through future dialogue, KCNA said.

“We still cherish our good faith in President Trump,” the spokesman said, while warning against repeating past failures.

“The United States should make a serious consideration of whether the toleration of the headwind against the wills of the two top leaders would meet the aspirations and expectations of the world’s people as well as the interests of its country.”

‘EQUALLY COMMITTED’

Kim Jong Un made a broad commitment to “work toward denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula” in Singapore but offered no details of how or when North Korea might dismantle a weapons programme that Trump has vowed will not be allowed to threaten the United States.

Nauert said Pompeo had been “very firm” on three basic goals: the complete denuclearisation of North Korea, security assurances, and the repatriation of U.S. remains from the 1950-53 Korean War.

Pompeo said the two sides agreed to hold discussions on July 12 on the repatriation of remains of Americans killed in the 1950-53 Korean War, and also discussed “modalities” for the destruction of a missile engine testing facility.

KCNA said in addition to the missile engine site and return of remains of U.S. soldiers, the North offered to discuss declaring an end to war marking next month’s anniversary of the armistice agreement, but the U.S. side showed little interest, giving “certain conditions and excuses.”

Asked about reports based on U.S. intelligence assessments that North Korea had continued to develop its nuclear facilities even while engaging in dialogue, Pompeo said:

“We talked about what the North Koreans are continuing to do and how it’s the case that we can get our arms around achieving what Chairman Kim and President Trump both agreed to, which is the complete denuclearisation of North Korea.

“There is no — no one walked away from that, they’re still equally committed, Chairman Kim is … still committed,” he said.

Nauert said the July 12 meeting, which Pompeo said would take place at the intra-Korean border, would be at working level and involve U.S. Defense Department officials.

Pompeo reiterated that Trump was “committed to a brighter future for North Korea”.

Pyongyang’s comments show that achieving agreement will be difficult and implementation harder but the Trump administration should continue to try to narrow the chasm with North Korea, said Patrick Cronin, an Asia expert at the Centre for a New American Security in Washington.

“There is perhaps a two-to-three-month window over the summer to do so before Washington will need to return the focus back to maximum pressure,” Cronin said, referring to a U.S.-led drive to press North Korea to give up its arms programmes through tough international sanctions, from which Pyongyang has been seeking relief.

Developments between North Korea and the United States will be closely watched in the region. Pompeo is due to meet in Tokyo on Sunday with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, according to the State Department.

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