A new round of U.S.-North Korea working-level talks on denuclearization was likely to be held this month or early next month, the South’s Yonhap news agency reported Monday, quoting Seoul’s spy agency, with leader Kim Jong Un eyeing a December summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) told a closed-door parliamentary audit session that it “expected the working-level talks to resume no later than early December,” Rep. Lee Eun-jae of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party was quoted as saying.
“As the two sides identified each other’s stance in their Stockholm talks in October, the time appears to be coming for them to launch full-fledged consultations,” Lee said.
Another lawmaker, Rep. Kim Min-ki of the ruling Democratic Party, said the NIS “thinks Kim has set his mind on another summit in December.”
The spy agency was also “closely watching” the possibility of Kim visiting China within the year, according to lawmakers on the panel.
It remains unclear if U.S. President Donald Trump would accept a proposal for a December summit with Kim, and what could be gained from a third meeting.
The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The nuclear negotiations have effectively been deadlocked since working-level talks early last month ended with the North’s new top negotiator, Kim Myong Gil, saying they had broken off “entirely due to the United States’ failure to abandon its outdated viewpoint and attitude.”
Washington has said it is open to returning to the talks, with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claiming that the U.S. side had come to the October talks “with a set of ideas.” But the dramatic break up of those negotiations has left many observers wondering if they will resume.
Senior North Korean officials have criticized the U.S. over its position in the talks, with Pyongyang’s former top nuclear negotiator blasting Washington’s “delaying tactics” late last month and warning of a failure to heed Kim’s deadline for a “bold decision” by the year’s end.
Kim Yong Chol, a known regime hard-liner, said that “no substantial progress has been made” in improving ties and that continued “belligerent relations” could lead to an “exchange of fire” at “any moment.”
The North on Thursday test-fired what Japan’s Defense Ministry said were two “short-range missiles” that traveled 350 to 400 km. The tests were believed to be the nuclear-armed country’s 19th and 20th launches since May.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the launches “as an act that threatens the peace and safety of Japan and the region,” saying that the North was using the tests to further refine its weapons, including many that are capable of striking Japan.
“It is clear that the objective is to improve its missile technologies,” Abe said. “It is necessary to further strengthen our security surveillance.”
Pyongyang is banned from ballistic missile launches under U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Trump and Kim Jong Un have met three times, first for an official summit in Singapore last year, again for a meeting in Vietnam this year and once for talks at the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas in late June. Though surrounded by much fanfare, all three meetings have yielded few, if any, tangible results, critics say.
Supporters of the president, however, contend Trump’s unorthodox approach — he was the first sitting U.S. president to meet with a North Korean leader — has upended Washington’s outdated way of dealing with Pyongyang.
Kim, however, has expressed his displeasure with the direction of the negotiations by conducting a flurry of short-range missile tests, including weapons analysts say are designed to evade missile-defense systems in South Korea and Japan.