US-North Korea talks stumble as Pyongyang knocks Pompeo effort

Pyongyang’s criticism fuels further doubts if Trump will ever achieve his goal of ‘compete denuclearisation’


WASHINGTON • US-North Korea talks hit their first major stumbling block since last month’s landmark summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, with Pyongyang dismissing American demands after two days of negotiations as “cancerous” and “gangster-like”.

North Korea’s criticism of the talks in Pyongyang fuelled further doubts about whether Trump will ever achieve his goal of “compete denuclearisation”, much less on the timeline of one to 2½ years set out by various administration officials. The North Koreans were far more pessimistic in their assessment than the US’ lead negotiator, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (picture), who called the meetings “productive”.

“The US side came up only with its unilateral and gangster- like demand for denuclearisation,” an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman said in statement published by the state-run Korean Central News Agency a few hours after Pompeo’s departure. The official said that US calls for “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation”, run “counter to the spirit of the Singapore summit”.

The statement ended with a personal appeal to the US leader. “We still cherish our good faith in President Trump,” the official said.

Notably, Kim didn’t meet with Pompeo, as he had on the US envoy’s previous two trips to Pyongyang.

The dust-up exposed key disagreements that have continued to divide the US and North Korea, despite the historic imagery of Trump and Kim shaking hands and signing a vague, 1½ page agreement on June 12. Trump has since the summit continued to assert that North Korea was “no longer a nuclear threat”, even though Kim made no commitment to unilaterally disarm and appears to be pressing ahead with nuclear and missile programmes.

In Tokyo yesterday, Pompeo said in a tweet that he would discuss maintaining the US’ “maximum pressure” campaign on North Korea with his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono — a term Trump has said he was avoiding to foster diplomacy with Kim.

“It appears Trump took his victory lap a tad too soon,” Bruce Klingner, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst and now an Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation, said in an email. “The diplomatic path remains open, but it will be far bumpier and far longer than the Trump administrat ion had bel ieved and described publicly.”

A senior State Department official, who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations, said Pompeo wasn’t concerned by the North Korean statement and believed it was a negotiating tactic. The official said Pompeo was encouraged by the line about still having faith in Trump.

The North Koreans stopped short of calling off talks. The two sides agreed to create working groups to discuss what the State Department called the “nitty gritty details” and Pompeo said there would be a meeting on Thursday at the South Korean border to discuss returning the remains of US soldiers from the 1950- 53 Korean War.

Pompeo told reporters that North Korea confirmed intentions to destroy a missile-engine testing facility and that the two sides discussed the “modalities” of what that would look like. That fell far short of concrete steps toward cataloguing and eliminating Kim nuclear weapons programme, and North Korea appeared angered by his efforts to put disarmament ahead of moving to formally end the war.

“Welcome to NK Negotiations 101,” Duyeon Kim, a visiting fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum in Seoul, wrote on Twitter after talks ended. “It’s one of many stumbling blocks we’ll encounter, but US should press ahead with negotiations but must NOT let nuke talks be held hostage to peace talks.”

Over the decades, North Korea has often shown a willingness to scuttle negotiations when the disarmament pressure exceeds its tolerance.

Trump called off the summit after similarly critical statements in May, only to restore the meeting following a personal appeal from Kim.

Pompeo said negotiators discussed the idea of a full declaration of North Korean weapons of mass destruction stockpiles, and setting a timeline for giving them up. He said the regime’s willingness to disarm was apparent during “many hours of talks’’ at a walled-off guest-house outside downtown Pyongyang with top Kim aide, Kim Yongchol.