Asia Pacific / Politics

North Korea says U.S. stance on sanctions could derail denuclearization talks

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

In a sign of Pyongyang’s growing impatience with stalled nuclear talks with Washington, North Korea has warned the United States that its stance on crippling sanctions could “block the path to denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula forever.”

In a statement published Sunday by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, the country’s Foreign Ministry heaped praise on U.S. President Donald Trump but delivered a stinging critique of the State Department, which it said is “bent on bringing the DPRK-U.S. relations back to the status of last year which was marked by exchanges of fire.”

DPRK is the acronym for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The statement by the policy research director of the Foreign Ministry’s Institute for American Studies accused Washington of a “deliberate provocation” by imposing sanctions on three top North Korean officials over human rights abuses. The sanctioned officials include Choe Ryong Hae, who is believed to rank second only to Kim Jong Un in the leadership hierarchy.

The North has said that crushing U.S. economic sanctions must be eased as a “corresponding” measure after its unilateral missile and nuclear test moratorium, the destruction of its main nuclear test site and the ongoing dismantling of a key missile engine test facility.

The White House, however, has given no hint that it is ready to lift the measures.

In response, the North has blasted top Trump administration officials — while taking care not to directly target the U.S. president.

“If the high-ranking politicians within the U.S. administration including the State Department had calculated that they could drive us into giving up nuclear weapons by way of increasing the anti-DPRK sanctions and pressure and human rights racket to an unprecedented level, which has nothing to do with confidence building, it will count as greatest miscalculation, and it will block the path to denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula forever — a result desired by no one,” the statement said.

“The U.S. should realize before it is too late that ‘maximum pressure’ would not work against us and take a sincere approach to implementing the Singapore DPRK-U.S. Joint Statement,” it added, referring to a vaguely worded 1½-page document that saw Kim pledge to “work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” while Trump committed to “provide security guarantees” to the North Korean regime.

But in the months since the June summit in Singapore, little progress has been made, with the U.S. saying that sanctions would remain in place until the North’s “final, fully verified denuclearization” and Pyongyang condemning “gangster-like” U.S. demands — including a reported appeal for an exhaustive list of the country’s nuclear sites.

Trump, who has said he will hold a second summit with Kim sometime next year, has also played down hopes for any imminent deal to persuade the North to give up its nuclear arsenal.

“Many people have asked how we are doing in our negotiations with North Korea — I always reply by saying we are in no hurry,” he tweeted Friday.

Despite the apparent lack of urgency, the U.S. leader has expressed some optimism, saying North Korea’s economy has “wonderful potential” and that Kim “sees it better than anyone and will fully take advantage of it for his people.”

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