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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 17 July 2018

North Korea says talks with Pompeo 'regrettable'

Pyongyang accuses US secretary of state of pushing for unilateral denuclearisation

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said talks with senior North Korean official Kim Yong-chol in Pyongyang had been 'productive', with 'a great deal of progress', on July 7, 2018. Andrew Harnik / AFP
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said talks with senior North Korean official Kim Yong-chol in Pyongyang had been 'productive', with 'a great deal of progress', on July 7, 2018. Andrew Harnik / AFP

North Korea said on Saturday that high-level talks with a United States delegation led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were "regrettable" and accused Washington of trying to pressure the country into abandoning its nuclear weapons unilaterally.

The North's statement came hours after Mr Pompeo wrapped up two days of talks with North Korean officials but without meeting leader Kim Jong-un.

Before leaving Pyongyang, Mr Pompeo told reporters that his conversations with Mr Kim's senior aide, Kim Yong-chol, had been "productive," conducted "in good faith" and that "a great deal of progress" had been made in some areas. He stressed that "there's still more work to be done" in other areas, much of which would be done by working groups that the two sides have set up to deal with specific issues.

However, the North provided a much harsher assessment of the talks, saying that the US betrayed the spirit of last month's summit between President Donald Trump and Mr Kim by making "one-sided and robber-like" demands on "CVID", or the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of North Korea.

It said the outcome of the follow-up talks was "very concerning" because it has led to a "dangerous phase that might rattle our willingness for denuclearisation that had been firm".

"We had expected that the US side would offer constructive measures that would help build trust based on the spirit of the leaders' summit ... we were also thinking about providing reciprocal measures," a foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

"However, the attitude and stance the United States showed in the first high-level meeting was no doubt regrettable," the spokesman said.

Despite his claims of progress, Mr Pompeo could point to no concrete achievement from the talks aside from an agreement for the two sides to meet around July 12 in Panmunjom, the border village between the two Koreas, to discuss returning the remains of US soldiers from the 1950-1953 Korean War.

He said North Korea had confirmed it intended to destroy a missile-engine testing facility and the two sides discussed the “modalities’’ of what that would look like. The countries also agreed to create working groups that will be overseen by Sung Kim, the US ambassador to the Philippines who has handled some lower-level discussions, to work out what State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called the “nitty-gritty details’’ of future talks.

Mr Pompeo's announcement will do little to quell unease that North Korea’s commitment to denuclearisation is a facade and it has no intention of giving up its weapons.

Critics and analysts who study North Korea have argued that the country’s commitment to the “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula,’’ as spelt out in a joint declaration from the Singapore summit, does not go as far as other promises to give up its nuclear weapons that it had made - and reneged upon - many times in the past.

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In recent days, intelligence reports have shown that North Korea is continuing work at a key rocket-engine facility. The US has also stopped using the catchphrase of “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation’’ of North Korea that it had insisted upon as a condition for any relief from crippling sanctions. That change raised suspicion that the US was softening its demands for the country, an argument that Ms Nauert insisted on Friday was not true.

Mr Pompeo has bristled at the idea that the Singapore declaration amounted to an empty promise, saying repeatedly that North Korea's leader had assured him in private conversations he was ready to give up his nuclear arms.

But fissures have emerged in the US stance. Last week, Mr Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton said North Korea could be expected to carry out the “bulk’’ of denuclearisation within a year. Yet Mr Pompeo himself had earlier said he envisioned that taking place in about two-and-a-half years, by the end of Mr Trump’s term, and Ms Nauert later said the US was not putting a timeline on the process.

Before the latest talks in Pyongyang had concluded, she told reporters that Mr Pompeo had been “very firm” in insisting that North Korea fulfills its commitment to “complete denuclearisation”. She said the two sides had also discussed the return of the remains of American troops killed during the Korean War.

Mr Pompeo’s visit represents the highest-level meeting between US and North Korean officials since the summit in Singapore on June 12. The secretary of state is under pressure to deliver a more concrete disarmament plan after the two leaders signed a vague one-and-a-half-page document that did not provide a timetable for dismantling North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.