Rapid-fire mood swings in US talks with North Korea

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Nation & World - BY CAROL MORELLO Wash­ing­ton Post

Diplo­mats from the United States and North Korea al­ter­nately shook hands and lobbed cri­tiques at one an­other Satur­day, in what ap­peared to be an­other road­block in the path to ne­go­ti­a­tions aimed at end­ing Py­ongyang’s nu­clear and missile pro­grams.

In a day of head-snap­ping twists of tone at the an­nual con­fer­ence of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN) in Sin­ga­pore, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo warned Rus­sia not to help North Korea cheat on U.N. sanctions that Moscow had voted for.

Then, just a few short hours later, Pom­peo and North Korean Foreign Min­is­ter Ri Yong Ho ap­proached each other for a pub­lic hand­shake and ex­changed promis­ing pleas­antries with big smiles. Ac­cord­ing to State De­part­ment spokes­woman Heather Nauert, Pom­peo sug­gested they would talk soon, and Ri agreed, adding, “There are many pro­duc­tive con­ver­sa­tions to be had.”

Nauert said that be­yond the brief ex­change at the group photo, Pom­peo and Ri did not have a more for­mal meet­ing. Given where the United States and North Korea were a year ago, Nauert said, “This is a step in the right di­rec­tion.”

As the two top diplo- mats re­turned to their seats, Sung Kim, the U.S. am­bas­sador to the Philip­pines, ap­proached Ri and handed him a white en­ve­lope bear­ing a let­ter from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

While the full con­tents were un­known, Pom­peo tweeted later Satur­day that the let­ter was Trump’s re­ply to a mis­sive the pres­i­dent re­ceived from Kim last week, which White House spokes­woman Sarah Huck­abee Saun­ders char­ac­ter­ized as a “follow-up” to their June sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore. In his own tweet, Trump de­scribed Kim’s let­ter as “nice,” breezily adding, “I look for­ward to see­ing you soon!”

But things at the Singa- pore con­fer­ence went down­hill af­ter Pom­peo de­parted for In­done­sia: Ri waited un­til then to de­liver a sharp at­tack on the United States in re­marks at the fo­rum.

Though he said the North Korean gov­ern­ment re­mains com­mit­ted to a joint state­ment that fol­lowed a sum­mit be­tween Trump and Kim in June, Ri crit­i­cized the White House for in­sist­ing on main­tain­ing sanctions un­til dis­ar­ma­ment is com­plete and de­manded “con­fi­dence-build­ing” mea­sures along the way.

“What is alarm­ing, how­ever, is the in­sis­tent moves man­i­fested within the U.S. to go back to the old; far from its leader’s in­ten­tion,” Ri said.

The di­ver­gent rhetoric un­der­scored the dif­fi­cul­ties that have ham­pered pre­vi­ous at­tempts to per­suade North Korea to aban­don its nu­clear and missile pro­grams. It also was rem­i­nis­cent of Pom­peo’s last visit to North Korea in July, when he de­clared the meet­ings “pro­duc­tive,” but North Korea hours later would say the U.S. ap­proach was “gang­ster-like.”

Pre­vi­ous ne­go­tia­tors have seen sim­i­lar rapid­fire mood swings from Py­ongyang.

This is just North Korea’s style of ne­go­ti­at­ing and in­di­cates any talks would prob­a­bly take many months if not years.

Pom­peo has ac­knowl­edged talks will be dif­fi­cult and strung-out, but he said Satur­day that he re­mains op­ti­mistic that even­tu­ally the two sides can reach a deal to end the North’s nu­clear weapons pro­gram.

Py­ongyang’s will­ing­ness to truly de­nu­cle­arize has come into ques­tion lately.

U.S. De­part­ment of State

The U.S. del­e­ga­tion de­liv­ers to North Korean Foreign Min­is­ter Ri Yong Ho a let­ter from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to Kim Jong Un.

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