Asia Pacific / Politics

Top U.S. diplomat 'confident' of third round of Trump-Kim nuclear talks

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he is “confident” there will be a third summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, noting that talks with Pyongyang are continuing after a February nuclear summit in Hanoi failed to yield a deal.

Asked if the meeting would come soon, Pompeo told “CBS This Morning” on Friday that he hoped that would be the case.

“Look, we came out of Hanoi with a deeper understanding of each other, the positions that the two sides had,” Pompeo said. “The two leaders were able to make progress in that respect. We didn’t get as far as the world is demanding.”

Still, Pompeo said U.S.-North Korea diplomatic channels remained open and the two sides have “had conversations after Hanoi about how to move forward.” He did not elaborate.

Next week will see two key events that could shape any progress in U.S.-North Korea talks: a summit between Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Washington on April 11 and a session of the North’s Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s rubber-stamp parliament, in Pyongyang the same day.

The Hanoi summit, the second between Trump and Kim in less than a year, fell apart over a failure to reconcile North Korean demands for sanctions relief with U.S. demands for Kim to give up his weapons of mass destruction.

North Korea has since warned that it is considering halting talks and may rethink a freeze on missile and nuclear tests, in place since 2017, unless Washington relents and makes concessions.

Moon is widely expected to try to convince Trump to offer some limited easing of sanctions as a sign of goodwill, including allowing inter-Korean projects such as the reopening of the Kaesong industrial complex and tourism to Mount Kumgang.

But Pompeo remained firm that crippling economic sanctions on the North would not be lifted until it relinquished its nuclear weapons.

“President Trump has been unambiguous,” he said. “Our administration’s policy is incredibly clear: Economic sanctions, United Nations Security Council sanctions, will not be lifted until we achieve the ultimate objective that we set out now almost two years ago.”

David Kim, a research analyst with the Stimpson Center think tank in Washington, said the South Korean leader ‘is more determined now than ever to persuade Trump to return to the bargaining table with North Korea.”

“Moon’s administration thinks these next two months before the first U.S. presidential debate are a crucial time to move towards a deal with North Korea,” he said. “His one-day summit shows that he cannot leave the country for too long as it gives his opposition more fodder to criticize and take advantage of Moon’s domestics economic woes.”

In terms of moving the North Korean nuclear negotiations forward, “Trump will have to give more on the peace process and Moon will have to address denuclearization in a more concrete way during their meeting,” Kim added.

Pompeo’s remarks came a day after the Japanese Defense Ministry’s think tank warned Friday that Pyongyang could use negotiations with Washington to stall for time.

Pyongyang may take advantage of the negotiations to buy time to rebuild its economy while continuing its nuclear and missile development, the National Institute for Defense Studies said in its East Asian Strategic Review 2019 report.

As for the North Korean assembly meeting, at which Kim is expected to speak, Pompeo said that the U.S. would be watching “very closely” what he says.

However, he added, “I don’t expect there’ll be great surprise.”

The assembly meeting follows the North’s first national election in five years last month, in which, unusually, Kim was not on the ballot.

His absence from the election — the first time a North Korean leader has not served as a member of the nation’s top legislative body since the inaugural parliamentary election was held in 1948 — has raised speculation that he may assume a new post as head of state through a constitutional revision in an attempt to bolster his grip on power.

North Korea-watchers are also closely monitoring whether Kim will map out a new diplomatic policy toward the U.S. at the assembly, though some say the timing of the Moon-Trump talks may postpone any announcement on that front.

In a possible indication of what could top that meeting’s agenda, North Korean state-run media has in recent days run stories focusing on a series of recent visits by Kim to large-scale economic projects he has overseen.

Last April, the North Korean leader announced that his country had suspended nuclear and longer-range missile tests and that it would mothball its main atomic test site, while also shifting its focus to building up its moribund economy. But in the months since, Kim has made little progress in kick-starting the North’s economy as the country remains under strict U.N. and unilateral sanctions.

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