SEOUL (Reuters) – Time was running out for the United States to formulate a new strategy to revive denuclearisation talks, a senior North Korean diplomat said on Thursday ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to South Korea.
FILE PHOTO: A person walks past a banner showing North Korean and U.S. flags ahead of the North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 25, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
Negotiations have been stalled since a second summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in February collapsed over differences between U.S. calls for complete denuclearisation and Kim’s demands for sanctions relief.
Kim has said a third meeting would be possible only if Washington adopted a more flexible approach, setting a year-end deadline.
The United States is in behind-the-scenes talks with North Korea over a possible third summit and has proposed reopening working-level negotiations, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Wednesday.
Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea who has led working-level talks, is set to arrive in Seoul on Thursday ahead of Trump, who is due in South Korea at the weekend after visiting Japan for the G20 summit.
Trump said on Wednesday he would not meet with Kim during his stay in the South.
Kwon Jong Gun, director-general for U.S. affairs at the North’s foreign ministry, said the United States continues to speak of dialogue while “becoming more and more desperate in its hostile acts.”
He did not elaborate, but a foreign ministry spokesman said on Wednesday that the recent U.S. extension of sanctions against North Korea was an act of hostility and an outright challenge to the first summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore last year.
“The dialogue would not open by itself though the U.S. repeatedly talks about resumption of dialogue like a parrot without considering any realistic proposal that would fully conform with the interests of both sides,” Kwon said in a statement carried by Pyongyang’s official KCNA news agency.
If the United States were to produce results, “time will not be enough,” Kwon said.
“Negotiation should be conducted with a counterpart who has a good sense of communication, and it could also be possible only when the United States comes up with a proper counterproposal,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday said that a recent exchange of letters between Trump and Kim boosted hopes for a restart of talks, calling it a “very real possibility.”
KCNA has said Trump’s letter had “excellent content” and Kim would “seriously contemplate” it, without elaborating.
FEW SIGNS OF NUCLEAR DEAL
Reclusive North Korea has for years pursued missile and nuclear weapons programs in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Tension has mounted between North Korea and the United Sattes since the breakdown of the second summit in Hanoi. North Korea launched short-range missiles in May and Washington seized a North Korean ship suspected of illicit coal shipments in breach of sanctions, and has imposed fresh sanctions.
While lauding the rapport Kim has built with Trump, the North has accused Pompeo of making “gangster-like” demands and urged a replacement with someone “more mature”.
Wednesday’s statement by the North singled out his recent remarks that more than 80 percent of the North Korean economy had been affected by sanctions as “reckless” and “sophistry.”
There are few signs that the United States and North Korea are any closer to a deal, with both saying they are open to talks but calling for the other side to change policy.
Seoul’s unification minister said on Thursday that inter-Korea commercial projects that could channel millions of dollars a year to Pyongyang could be a leverage to boost nuclear talks. But the North said Seoul will never mediate between Washington and Pyongyang.
“As is globally known, the DPRK-U.S. relations are moving forward on the basis of the personal relations” between Kim and Trump, Kwon said, using the initials of North Korea’s full name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“Therefore, there will be no such a happening where anything will go through the South Korean authorities.”
Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Michael Perry