TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused North Korea of operating secret facilities for the enrichment of uranium when he met senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol during his July 6-7 visit to the country, the Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.
The US top diplomat's move appears to underscore Washington's increasing suspicion that Pyongyang is covertly proceeding with activities that are contrary to denuclearisation, despite its declared commitment to the goal.
It also raises the possibility that even if North Korea starts the process of denuclearisation, the alleged existence of secret facilities will become an issue during the declaration and verification phases.
According to sources knowledgeable about Japan-US-South Korea trilateral talks, Pompeo said at his meeting Kim Yong Chol that Pyongyang was enhancing the production of enriched uranium and also concealing nuclear-related facilities and nuclear warheads.
Citing information that construction activities are under way at a missile plant at Hamhung in the north-eastern province of South Hamgyong to expand the facility, Pompeo stressed that this was not beneficial to US-North Korean relations.
Kim Yong Chol, a top North Korean party official and former spy agency chief with whom Pompeo played a key role in arranging an unprecedented summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12, flatly denied Pompeo's claim, according to the sources.
Pyongyang has never hidden or operated a secret uranium enrichment site, the North Korean official was quoted as saying.
Kim also reportedly argued that activities at the Hamhung missile plant were part of construction work in preparation for the rainy season, not expansion work.
On July 7, a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman released a statement accusing Washington of showing a "regrettable" attitude at the meeting between Pompeo and the North Korean official.
The actual state of North Korea's production of enriched uranium has not been ascertained, except for a lone previously acknowledged facility at Yongbyon in the nation's north-western region. The existence of the Yongbyon enrichment site was disclosed to a US nuclear expert in 2010.
Together with plutonium, highly enriched uranium is a key ingredient in the making of nuclear bombs.
The view is widely shared among US experts that in addition to Yongbyon, North Korea has one or two covert uranium enrichment facilities.
The Washington Post reported on June 30 that US intelligence authorities had discovered the existence of a uranium enrichment facility called Kangson. The facility is believed to have twice the enrichment capacity of Yongbyon, according to the report.
Details on the facility are unknown, but there is a view that the name Kangson was taken from a place or facility near the Pyongyang suburb of Nampo in South Pyongan Province.
At the meeting, Pompeo may have asked about specific facilities based on intelligence.
US patience 'not unlimited'
The secretary of state pressed Kim Yong Chol to quickly implement denuclearisation measures, saying Washington's patience is not unlimited, according to the sources.
The Pyongyang official reportedly called for an early announcement of an end to the 1950-53 Korean War, refraining from presenting a road map for denuclearisation while reiterating the intention to denuclearise.
Following his visit to North Korea, Pompeo reported the outcome from the meeting to US President Donald Trump.
Asked by the president whether the US should continue negotiations with Pyongyang or exert more pressure, Pompeo told him that it would take a while to reach a decision, according to the sources.