By Nicholas Wadhams and Youkyung Lee
President Donald Trump played down concern over postponement of a meeting between Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and North Korean officials that was scheduled for this week, and said he expects to meet leader Kim Jong Un early next year.
Trump suggested at a news conference Wednesday that a meeting between Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yong Chol, that was supposed to take place Thursday in New York would be rescheduled because of a conflict that he didn’t explain. He said he wasn’t worried and that sanctions against North Korea remain in full effect.
“I’d love to take the sanctions off, but they have to be responsive too — it’s a two-way street,” Trump said. He said he would probably meet Kim for a second summit “sometime early next year.”
The meeting’s delay until “a later date” — announced earlier Wednesday by State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, who also gave no reason — provoked concerns that nuclear talks between the U.S. and North Korea had again bogged down, as Kim’s regime seeks sanctions relief before taking key disarmament steps.
Nauert said the meeting would be held when “our respective schedules permit,” and that the administration remained focused on fulfilling Kim’s pledge at his June summit with Trump to “denuclearize.”
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-Wha confirmed during a parliamentary questioning Thursday that it was Pyongyang’s decision to pull out of the meeting. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that North Korea canceled the meeting while the State Department was preparing visas for the visiting delegation.
While U.S. and South Korean officials had expressed hope the talks could make some progress — including laying the groundwork for a second Trump-Kim meeting — North Korea has in recent weeks stepped up calls for sanctions relief. A think tank affiliated with the foreign ministry in Pyongyang warned Friday that the regime could resume nuclear work if the U.S. side didn’t relax its economic blockade.
Kim leveled an unusually direct criticism of sanctions last week, saying the “vicious” measures stood in the way of the country’s development and that he wouldn’t be forced into “change and submission.”
Still, Pompeo had predicted “real progress” as recently as Sunday. “I’m confident that we’ll advance the ball again this week when I’m in New York City,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
In addition to Pompeo’s talks with his counterpart, the New York meeting in New York was expected to be the first between Trump’s special North Korean envoy, Stephen Biegun, and his counterpart, Choe Son Hui. The former Ford Motor Co. executive hasn’t participated in working-level talks, despite being appointed more than two months ago.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s spokesman Kim Eui-keum said the delay did not imply a collapse of the U.S. nuclear negotiations with North Korea or a loss of momentum. Moon’s office said the U.S. notified the government of the delay before the public announcement. A senior official at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul cautioned against reading too much into the decision to postpone the meeting.
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius