US, North Korea at odds on denuclearisation in first high-level talks since Singapore summit

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (right) with North Korean official Kim Yong-chol at the Park Hwa Guest House in Pyongyang, North Korea.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (right) with North Korean official Kim Yong-chol at the Park Hwa Guest House in Pyongyang, North Korea.PHOTO: NYTIMES

TOKYO - The United States and North Korea were at odds on the outcome of high-level talks that ended on Saturday (July 7), with Washington touting progress but Pyongyang slamming the US for its "deeply regrettable attitude" that harked back to a "cancerous past".

Hours after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo departed Pyongyang following the two-day meeting, the North's Foreign Ministry - through a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) - lashed out at the "unilateral and gangster-like demands for denuclearisation" from the US.

This was despite Mr Pompeo's positive assessment of his talks with Mr Kim Yong Chol, a top party official and former spy chief. He said progress was made "on almost all of the central issues" and negotiations were "productive and in good faith".

Pyongyang had, however, called the outcome of the talks "really troubling".

“The US is fatally mistaken if it went to the extent of regarding that the DPRK would be compelled to accept, out of its patience, demands reflecting its gangster-like mindset,” said a Foreign Ministry statement relayed by the KCNA state news agency, referring to North Korea by its official initials.

Pyongyang noted that it had already destroyed a nuclear test site –  a concession that US President Donald Trump has publicly hailed as a victory for peace –  and lamented that Mr Pompeo had proved unwilling to match this with US concessions.

It dismissed Mr Trump’s unilateral order to suspend joint US and South Korean war games as a cosmetic and “highly reversible” concession and criticised US negotiators who “never mentioned” the subject of bringing the 1953 Korean War to a formal end with a peace treaty.

"We expected that the US would come with constructive measures that are conducive to building trust, in line with the spirit of the North Korea-US summit, and we considered providing something that would correspond to them," the Foreign Ministry statement said.

It added that North Korea's resolve to give up its nuclear programmes may waver as the talks had resulted in a "dangerous situation". But it also said it "still has faith" in Mr Trump, as it called for a "phased and synchronous approach".

Mr Pompeo's visit, the third since March, marked the highest-level talks since the Singapore summit on June 12, during which Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inked a declaration that has been criticised for being scant on details.

Mr Pompeo's trip was meant to hash out the details on how to roll out the declaration. Unlike his previous visits, he did not meet Mr Kim, though he helped to deliver a letter from Mr Trump.

The US envoy told reporters "a good deal of time" was spent on "complicated issues", such as how the North can make a full declaration of its ballistic missile and nuclear weapon stockpiles, set a timeline for giving them up, as well as the "modalities" of how its intended demolition of a missile-engine testing facility would look like.

"These are complicated issues but we made progress on almost all of the central issues," he said. Mr Kim Yong Chol replied: "We will produce an outcome, results."

Mr Pompeo's visit had come amid doubts over the North's will to denuclearise, and questions over whether the US has softened its push for "complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement" of the North's nuclear weapons.

But the US envoy had said North Korea "is still equally committed" to complete denuclearisation.

Mr Pompeo arrived in Tokyo on Saturday evening on his first visit to the city since becoming secretary of state. He will give an update on the Pyongyang talks to Japanese and South Korean counterparts Taro Kono and Kang Kyung-wha on Sunday. He will also meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.