US postpones top-level NK talks
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday abruptly shelved plans to meet a top North Korean official in New York, the latest twist in diplomatic attempts to secure a potentially landmark peace deal.
The talks between President Donald Trump’s top diplomat and the North Korean delegation, which had been due on Thursday, “will now take place at a later date,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said.
“We will reconvene when our respective schedules permit,” she added in a statement.
State Department officials gave no further reasons for the delay to the meeting.
The State Department had just one day earlier confirmed that Pompeo would meet in New York with Kim Yong-chol – one of the North Korean leader’s right-hand men – to discuss progress toward a denuclearization pact and to work to arrange a second summit following historic talks between Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jongun in June.
Despite warm words from Trump since meeting Kim Jong-un in Singapore, his administration has insisted on maintaining pressure on Pyongyang until a final agreement is reached.
North Korea said last week that it would “seriously” consider returning to a state policy aimed at building nuclear weapons unless Washington lifts sanctions.
“The improvement of relations and sanctions are incompatible,” said a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. “What remains to be done is the US corresponding reply,” it added.
Pompeo said he was “not worried” about the North Korean demands and insisted there would be “no economic relief until we have achieved our ultimate objective.”
But Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told AFP that the postponement was a bad sign.
“This last-minute announcement of a delay is not a good signal as it indicates negotiations were not going well enough to go ahead with the planned meeting,” he said.
Pompeo has traveled four times this year to North Korea, in hopes of securing an accord.
The diplomacy comes a year after fears mounted of war, with Trump threatening “fire and fury” after Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests.
Trump has cast North Korea as a crowning diplomatic achievement and is eager for a fresh summit with Kim at which the two may formally declare an end to the 1950-53 Korean War.
Pompeo’s postponement of talks came amid emerging differences between Seoul and Washington, which stations 28,500 troops in the South to protect it from its nucleararmed neighbor.
In contrast to Washington’s approach, the South’s dovish president Moon Jae-in, who brokered the Singapore summit, has dangled large investment and joint cross-border projects as incentives for steps towards denuclearization.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said the meeting delay was “regrettable,” but insisted that “excessively pessimistic interpretation was unnecessary.”