North Korea

North Korea’s top diplomat accuses US of ‘attitude to retreat’ from peace process

Ri Yong-ho made the remarks at Asean meeting hours after China’s foreign minister claimed positive progress had been made

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 August, 2018, 10:10pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 August, 2018, 11:20pm

North Korea’s top diplomat accused the United States of “showing the attitude to retreat” from the peace process on the Korean peninsula, hours after China claimed positive progress had been made in recent months.

At a closed-door session during the Asean summit, top diplomats – including from China, the US, North and South Korea – held “brutally frank” conversations about the Korean peninsula, said Vivian Balakrishnan, foreign minister of host Singapore, during closing remarks on Saturday evening.

Speaking earlier in the day on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meetings, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US had warned China and Russia to strictly enforce UN sanctions on North Korea.

“Any violation that detracts from the world’s goal of finally, fully denuclearising North Korea would be something that America would take very seriously,” Pompeo said, citing reports that showed Russia was allowing joint ventures with North Korean companies and issuing new permits for North Korean guest workers.

Pompeo added that he had spoken with Chinese officials at the security summit about enforcing the sanctions, and “they made clear their commitment to do that”.

Hours later, North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho told his counterparts he had been alarmed by the US attitude towards his country, saying Pyongyang had taken “goodwill measures” by suspending nuclear tests and missile launches and dismantling its key testing site.

“However, the US, instead of responding to these measures, is raising its voice louder for maintaining the sanctions against [North Korea] and showing the attitude to retreat even from declaring the end of the war – a very basic and primary step for providing peace on the Korean peninsula,” Ri told the summit.

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At their landmark Singapore meeting in June, US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed a joint agreement that included a pledge to work towards “complete denuclearisation”. Diplomats from both sides have also since reportedly been working towards an official declaration of the end of the 1950-53 Korean war that separated the peninsula.

While Pompeo and Ri did not hold a bilateral meeting at the security summit, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the US delegation delivered a letter to the North’s foreign minister from Trump to Kim.

A confidential UN report saying Pyongyang had not stopped its nuclear and missile programmes was submitted to the Security Council North Korea sanctions committee late on Friday.

Before Ri’s remarks, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters on the sidelines of the summit that clear progress had been made on North Korea.

“There has been visible positive developments on the Korean peninsula in recent months. Nuclear issues have been brought back to seeking peaceful settlement through dialogue and consultation,” said Wang, who met Ri on Friday for talks.

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Regional security experts said Pyongyang’s latest remarks were in line with the strategy the regime had long taken – criticising Washington for not showing goodwill while making only limited concessions itself, without pulling back from its nuclear programme.

Zhao Tong, a nuclear policy fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy, said Washington could lose more leverage with Pyongyang because of its protracted trade battle with China, the North’s biggest trading partner.

“The trade war is making China feel that the US is not very reasonable,” Zhao said. “There were signs that China’s enforcement of UN sanctions was more than what was required, but now they will likely enforce the sanctions only at the bare minimum.”

But Wei Zongyou, a specialist in China-US relations at Fudan University in Shanghai, said he believed the difficulties brought by an escalating trade war would not alter China’s position.

“China hopes to see the denuclearisation of the peninsula and does not hope there will be new variables around the North Korean nuclear issue,” Wei said.

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Meanwhile, Benoit Hardy-Chartrand, an analyst at Temple University in Japan, said a return to tensions between US and North Korea would undoubtedly rattle China “as [Beijing] gained a lot from the Singapore summit and the subsequent rapprochement between Washington and Pyongyang”.

Additional reporting by Sarah Zheng