North Korea slams 'regrettable' US attitude at nuclear talks

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (right) and Kim Yong Chol, North Korean senior ruling party official and former intelligence chief, return to discussions after a break at Park Hwa Guest House in Pyongyang, on July 7, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - The US and North Korea diverged on the outcome of two days of talks on Saturday (July 7), with Pyongyang terming the US attitude at meetings on denuclearisation with Mr Mike Pompeo "extremely regrettable", hours after the Secretary of State cited progress on central issues.

A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman, in a statement reported by the Korea Central News Agency, accused Washington of trying to unilaterally pressure Pyongyang into abandoning its nuclear weapons, and said trust between countries is in a "dangerous stage" - adding that North Korea still trusts President Donald Trump.

The statement came hours after Mr Pompeo departed for Tokyo after meetings led by Mr Kim Yong Chol, a senior aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Mr Pompeo earlier said that US negotiators and their North Korean counterparts discussed the idea of Pyongyang making a full declaration of its weapons of mass destruction stockpiles and setting a timeline for giving them up.

"These are complicated issues, but we made progress on almost all of the central issues," Mr Pompeo told reporters on the airport tarmac before leaving Pyongyang, following his third visit to North Korea. "We had productive, good-faith negotiations."

Mr Pompeo said that North Korea, in the "many hours of talks" at a walled-off guesthouse outside downtown Pyongyang, reiterated its commitment to denuclearisation.

The North Korean delegation was led by Mr Kim Yong Chol. Mr Kim ended Mr Pompeo's visit on a positive note, telling the top US diplomat just before he boarded his plane, "We will produce an outcome, results."

For now, those results must remain in the future.

Mr Pompeo, who did not meet with Mr Kim Jong Un on this trip, 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 Mr Sung Kim, the US ambassador to the Philippines, who has handled some lower-level discussions, to work out what State Department spokeswoman called the "nitty gritty details" of future talks.

While Mr Pompeo hailed progress from the talks, the results he announced on Saturday will do little to quell unease that North Korea's commitment to denuclearisation, made when Mr Trump met with Mr Kim Jong Un in Singapore last month, 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 spelled out in a joint declaration from the Singapore summit, doesn't go as far as other promises to give up its nuclear weapons that North Korea had made - and reneged upon - many times in the past.

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 happening before North Korea gets any relief from a crippling sanctions regime.

That change raised suspicion that the US was softening its demands for the country, an argument that State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert had insisted on Friday wasn't true.

Mr Pompeo has bristled at the idea that the Singapore declaration amounted to an empty promise, saying repeatedly that Mr Kim Jong Un 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 occurring in about two-and-a-half years, by the end of Mr Trump's term, and Ms Nauert later said the US wasn't putting a timeline on the process.

Before events in Pyongyang had concluded, Ms Nauert told reporters that Mr Pompeo had been "very firm" in insisting that North Korea fulfils 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 Mr Trump and Mr Kim Jong Un held their unprecedented summit in Singapore on June 12.

The secretary is under pressure to deliver a more concrete disarmament plan after the two leaders signed a vague 1-1/2 page document that didn't provide a timetable for dismantling North Korea's nuclear arsenal.

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