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North Korea nuclear crisis

North Korea slams US ‘gangster-like’ demands after disarmament talks. But is this a negotiating tactic?

Different descriptions of meeting raised fears that disarmament negotiations may be doomed before they really begin

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 July, 2018, 9:16am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 July, 2018, 9:28pm

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday shrugged off North Korean accusations of “gangster-like” behaviour and said sanctions on Pyongyang would only be lifted with “final” denuclearisation.

Speaking in Tokyo after two days of intense discussions in Pyongyang, Pompeo insisted the talks were making progress and were being conducted in “good faith.”

In stark contrast, Pyongyang’s take was overwhelmingly negative, with the North warning that the future of the peace process was being jeopardised by overbearing US demands for its unilateral nuclear disarmament.

Speaking privately, US officials suggested the harshly-worded North Korean reaction was a negotiating tactic. But after two days of theatrical amity in Pyongyang it illustrated the gulf that remains between the two sides.

In Tokyo, Pompeo briefed his Japanese and South Korean counterparts on the talks, and sought to reassure them that the dialogue with North Korea would continue.

His trip to Pyongyang had been aimed at fleshing out denuclearisation commitments made during last month’s historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

North Korea has long trumpeted a denuclearisation goal, but one that it sees as a lengthy process of undefined multilateral disarmament on the entire Korean peninsula, rather than a unilateral dismantlement of its nuclear arsenal.

Speaking in Tokyo, Pompeo said his efforts to push the North on disarmament had the backing of the entire international community.

“If those requests were gangster-like, the world is a gangster, because there was a unanimous decision at the UN Security Council about what needs to be achieved,” he said.

While insisting again that the talks were moving forwards, he stressed that nothing had happened to merit a relaxation of the tough sanctions imposed on the North over its nuclear missile programme.

“It seems the US misunderstood our goodwill and patience,” the statement said.

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

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

“We thought that the US side would come with a constructive proposal... But this expectation and hope of ours was so naive as to be gullible,” the statement said.

The foreign ministers of Japan, the United States and South Korea meanwhile pledged to cement their unity in urging North Korea to denuclearise as promised.

“We were able to reaffirm our unwavering commitment to the continued strengthening of our trilateral cooperation toward the common goal of North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of all nuclear weapons and missiles,” Foreign Minister Taro Kono told a joint press conference.

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Pompeo also met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has placed priority on resolving the issue of North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

“The settlement of outstanding issues surrounding North Korea, including nuclear, missile and abduction, will be extremely important to Japan, and that will also be extremely important for regional peace and stability,” Abe said at the outset of the talks.

Abe has expressed a willingness to directly talk with North Korea even as questions remain over what a potential summit can yield.

Professor Yang Moo-jin at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said Pyongyang wants to separate “US bureaucrats from President Trump, expressing trust in him”.

“This is not to break the talks. The North is trying to get an upper hand in further negotiations,” he explained.

“North Korea expected Pompeo to bring a concrete proposal for security guarantee but it was disappointed as the US side reiterated the old demand that the North should denuclearise first before the US gives it anything in return.”

Pompeo, who was on his third visit to Pyongyang, began the outreach when he was still Trump’s CIA director and remained the point man on negotiations after the process became public and he became secretary of state.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert downplayed the significance of Kim’s decision not to receive Pompeo, saying there was never any expectation of a meeting.

Nauert also denied a South Korean report that Pompeo delivered to Kim a CD recording of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” autographed by Trump. The only item left behind, she said, was a letter from Trump for Kim.

Additional reporting by Associated Press and Tribune News Service