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Blame game between US, North Korea casts uncertainty on nuclear talks

US President Donald Trump (R) walks with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un during a break in talks at the second US-North Korea summit at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi on Feb. 28, 2019. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
September 02, 2019

On Saturday, North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui, one of Pyongyang’s top officials leading the denuclearization negotiations with the US, said that Pyongyang’s hopes for nuclear talks with Washington are fading. She pointed to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent comments depicting the country’s rocket launches as “rogue.”

“Our expectations of dialogue with the US are gradually disappearing and we are being pushed to reexamine all the measures we have taken so far,” Choe said in a statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

“We are very curious about the background of the American top diplomat’s thoughtless remarks and we will watch what calculations he has. The US had better not put any longer our patience to the test with such remarks irritating us if it doesn’t want to have bitter regrets afterward,” she said.

In response, the US State Department reaffirmed Saturday that it was ready to engage in negotiations as soon as it hears from North Korea.

With no clear moves being made to facilitate a working-level meeting, which was initially expected to take place mid-July, Washington and Pyongyang heightened tensions by exerting their respective leverage.

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North Korea launched a series of short-range ballistic missiles in protest against the regular military drills jointly conducted by Seoul and Washington.

On Aug. 30, the day before Choe’s statement was released, the US Treasury Department sanctioned three shipping firms and two Taiwanese citizens for allegedly engaging in illicit ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum goods to North Korea.

US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met in June at the inter-Korean border and vowed to reopen working-level negotiations in weeks, but Pyongyang has been tepid in its response.

In a speech to US veterans in Indiana on Tuesday, Pompeo said the Trump administration recognized that “North Korea’s rogue behavior could not be ignored” while touting the administration’s foreign policy approach.

“Americanism – it means telling the truth about the challenges we face,” he said. “Look, this administration didn’t pretend that the Islamic Republic of Iran was a responsible actor in the Middle East. We called out China’s bad behavior on trade and on national security. We recognized – we recognized that North Korea’s rogue behavior could not be ignored.”

Since the collapse of the second summit between Trump and Kim in Vietnam in late February, Pyongyang has been demanding that Pompeo be replaced with a “more mature” person.

Although the Trump administration’s point man for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, who is known to have mandate in the denuclearization talks, hinted at a more flexible approach in the next round of negotiations, he was not able to meet his North Korean counterparts when he visited Seoul two weeks ago.

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