US President Donald Trump has said that a denuclearisation deal with Pyongyang might require more than one meeting, as he indicated “very positive” progress in talks between US and North Korean officials in New York.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met top North Korean official Kim Yong-chol for a second day on Thursday. Following the meeting, Pompeo told reporters that their talks “are moving in the right direction”.
But when pressed if the planned summit in Singapore would proceed on June 12, Pompeo said: “I don’t know the answer to that.”
Earlier, Trump told reporters that the meetings are “very positive”.
“I look forward to receiving the letter,” Trump added, referring to a letter from Kim Jong-un that is expected to be delivered to him on Friday.
Trump also said that it may take multiple meetings between the two leaders to come up with a denuclearisation deal.
“We will see what happens,” Trump said.
“It’s a process … Hopefully, we will have a meeting on the 12th. But I want it to be meaningful. It doesn’t mean it all gets done in one meeting. Maybe we will have a second or a third, and maybe we will have none.”
Following Pompeo’s meeting with Kim Yong-chol on Thursday, the top US diplomat reiterated the US demand for a “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation” of the Korean Peninsula.
“Our two countries face a pivotal moment in our relationship, in which it could be nothing short of tragic to let this opportunity go to waste,” he said.
Kim Yong-chol, considered the North Korean leader’s right-hand man, is the most senior official from Pyongyang to visit the US in 18 years.
Disputes between Washington and Pyongyang led Trump to cancel the June 12 meeting – only to see a flurry of diplomatic efforts surrounding the proposed summit in recent days.
Earlier on Thursday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited North Korea, where he declared that sanctions against Pyongyang must be slowly eased as part of the process of its denuclearisation, and that all sides must meet each other half-way during negotiations.
During Lavrov’s visit, he met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho.
“It is absolutely obvious that – as we start discussions on how to resolve the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula – it is understood that the solution cannot be comprehensive without the lifting of sanctions,” Lavrov said at a press conference.
“This cannot be achieved at one go. There can be no immediate denuclearisation – this should be done step-by-step and all sides should go halfway during every single phase of this process.”
Washington is pressing North Korea to quickly give up all its nuclear weapons in a verifiable way in return for lifting sanctions and economic incentives.
But analysts say North Korea will be unwilling to cede its nuclear deterrent unless it is given security guarantees that the US will not try to topple the regime.
Moscow’s role ‘less significant’
Lavrov’s trip to Pyongyang is seen as an attempt by Moscow to make its voice heard.
Moscow’s top diplomat expressed Russia‘s support for the declaration between North and South Korea last month, in which they agreed to work for the denuclearisation of the peninsula.
North Korea’s leader Kim – meeting a top Russian official for the first time – thanked Moscow for standing by Pyongyang as the country tries to come in from the diplomatic cold.
“The situation on the Korean Peninsula is changing according to the interests of two countries. I’m glad that Putin’s government is acting in opposition to the domination of the United States, and we are always ready to negotiate with the Russian side,” Kim was quoted as saying in Russian media.
An analyst said despite the Russian delegation’s visit, Moscow does not have significant influence on North Korea’s position in the nuclear talks.
“For North Korea, Russia is less important compared to South Korea, the United States and China,” Andrei Lankov, a professor of Korean Studies at Kookmin University in Seoul, told Al Jazeera.
“The North Korean decisionmakers largely concentrate on the countries that are especially important, which either constitute a potential or actual military threat like the United States and South Korea, or those that can be seen as a possible source of economic assistance and investment – like China and South Korea,” Lankov said.
He added Russia is unlikely to invest any significant amount money in Pyongyang and does not have an active military presence in the region.