WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday the Trump administration was “hopeful” North Korea will continue to work toward denuclearization and refrain from long-range missile tests, as Pyongyang’s deadline for Washington to reconsider its approach to talks looms.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Pompeo also said Washington was looking for ways to talk to Pyongyang but offered no signs that the two sides were any closer to returning to the negotiating table.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has set a year-end deadline for the United States to be more flexible in denuclearization negotiations or risk Pyongyang taking a “new path.”
What exactly that path may be is unclear, but experts say North Korea could restart intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) testing suspended since 2017 and put the two countries back on a collision course, as they were before Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump held their first summit last year.
Pyongyang has ratcheted up the tensions recently with a series of weapons tests, and has resumed its personal insults against Trump.
“Chairman Kim personally made the commitment to denuclearize, so there wouldn’t be long-range missile tests, nuclear tests,” Pompeo said when asked whether the United States expected North Korea to return to a more aggressive posture.
“All of those are commitments that we are very hopeful that the North Koreans will continue to abide by,” Pompeo said, adding that Washington was seeking to develop “negotiation mechanisms where we can talk to them about paths forward.”
Kim made only vague commitments on denuclearization at his first summit with Trump in Singapore and diplomacy has since stalled. North Korea wants the United States to stop insisting that Pyongyang abandon its nuclear weapons program unilaterally and wants relief from punishing sanctions.
North Korean ruling party vice chairman Kim Yong Chol on Monday called Trump a “heedless and erratic old man.”
The comments by Kim, who was instrumental in arranging a failed second summit in February, came a day after Pyongyang announced a “very important” test of an unspecified device. Satellite imagery indicated on Monday it may have been a rocket engine.
Trump tweeted on Sunday that Kim risks losing “everything” if he resumes hostility and that his country must denuclearize.
Lavrov said progress between the United States and North Korea was only possible if the two sides took “reciprocal steps.” But he also said: “We call on the North Korean leadership to show restraint.”