North Korea has called high-level talks with a US delegation led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “extremely regrettable”, contradicting Washington’s account of how the meeting in Pyongyang went.
But while Pompeo on Saturday painted a positive picture of the follow-up talks, North Korean officials accused the US of trying to unilaterally pressure their country into abandoning its nuclear programme.
“We had expected that the US side would offer constructive measures that would help build trust based on the spirit of the leaders’ summit. We were also thinking about providing reciprocal measures,” an unnamed spokesperson of North Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement published by the official Korean Central News Agency.
“However, the attitude and stance the United States showed in the first high-level meeting [between the countries] was no doubt regrettable,” the spokesperson added.
The statement came shortly after Pompeo said he had made progress “on almost all of the central issues” in the talks, including on setting a timeline for its denuclearisation, though more work remained to be done.
Pompeo said the two sides agreed to hold discussions on July 12 on the repatriation of remains of Americans killed in the 1950-53 Korean War, and also discussed “modalities” for the destruction of a missile engine testing facility.
As he departed Pyongyang, Pompeo said he spent “a good deal of time” discussing a denuclearisation timeline and the declaration of North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities.
“I think we made progress in every element of our discussions,” he added. “These are complicated issues but we made progress on almost all of the central issues. Some places a great deal of progress, other places there’s still more work to be done,” he said.
Sarah Clarke, reporting from South Korea’s capital, Seoul, said that North Korea appeared to be unhappy following the high-level talks.
“Particularly, they have suggested that they are disappointed by the US insistence on focusing on the denuclearisation plans over what they described as big-picture issues,” she said.
“It’s certainly a setback and a change of heart and a very different picture coming from the North Korean side.”
US Department of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Pompeo did not meet Kim, as he had done on his two previous visits to North Korea this year, but handed over a letter to him from Trump.
A letter from Kim to Trump was also delivered to Pompeo through Kim Yong-chol, a top North Korean party official.
“Clearly, we see some posturing particularly from the North Korean side using the leverage that they have, especially in the lead-up to Trump’s visit to NATO and his big summit with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin in the coming week,” said Hilary Mann Leverett, a former White House official.
“The North Koreans … understand that President Trump needs a win; he needs to have a good story coming out of his high-risk diplomacy with North Korea going into his delicate and maybe-highly charged negotiations with the Europeans and the Russians next week,” she added.
Trump had said during the Singapore summit that economic sanctions would remain in effect until North Korea reverses its nuclear programme, adding that there were no short-term plans to reduce the number of US troops – some 28,500 – stationed in South Korea.