US President Donald Trump has asked his top diplomat to call off a trip to North Korea “at this time”, citing insufficient progress on denuclearisation.
“I have asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to not go to North Korea, at this time, because I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula,” Trump tweeted on Friday.
The US Department of State never confirmed Pompeo’s trip, but US media, citing diplomatic sources, said the secretary of state was expected to be in Pyongyang for several hours on Monday.
Trump laid unspecified blame on China, tweeting “I do not believe” China is helping with the process of denuclearisation “because of our much tougher Trading stance.”
The US and China have been locked in a trade dispute for months, with each side ratcheting up tariffs on imports from the other country.
Trump said Pompeo “looks forward” to going to North Korea after the US “trading relationship with China is resolved”.
Trump’s tweets followed a report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency this week outlining “grave concern” about the North’s nuclear programme.
The report said it hasn’t seen any indication that North Korea’s nuclear activities have ceased despite pledges to denuclearise.
Al Jazeera’s Shihab Rattansi, reporting from Washington, DC, said Trump was very diplomatic in his tweets and, despite the postponement, still wants a summit with North Korea to take place sometime in the future.
“A few days ago, President Trump had been pretty upbeat about negotiations with North Korea, telling Reuters news agency that Pyongyang had taken steps towards denuclearlisation, missile testing had stopped and he was looking forward to another summit with North Korea,” he said.
On Thursday, Pompeo appointed Stephen Biegun, a senior executive with the Ford Motor Co, to be his special envoy for North Korea and said he and Biegun would visit next week.
White House officials did not immediately comment on what prompted Trump to call off Pompeo’s trip. The State Department had no immediate comment on the matter and referred questions to the White House.
Shift in tone
Friday’s surprise announcement by Trump appeared to mark a concession by the president to domestic and international concerns that his prior claims of world-altering progress on the peninsula had been strikingly premature.
After more a year of escalating tensions defined by nuclear and missile tests, new sanctions and “fire and fury” rhetoric, Trump made history meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un earlier this year.
In the run-up to the summit, both nations engaged in hard-nosed negotiation, with Trump publicly calling off the meeting in an effort to push Kim to agree to nuclear concessions. During the summit, the pair signed a vague joint statement in which the North agreed to denuclearise, but which left nearly all details undefined.
“There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” Trump declared on Twitter after the meeting.
“Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea. President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem,” he added. “No longer – sleep well tonight!”
But negotiations have stalled since the June summit in Singapore. Pompeo is pressing for tangible steps towards North Korea’s abandonment of its nuclear arsenal while Pyongyang is demanding that Washington first make concessions of its own.
Despite this, Trump had kept up the positive tone as recently as Tuesday at a campaign rally in West Virginia. There Trump maintained “we’re doing well with North Korea.”
“There’s been no missile launches. There’s been no rocket launches,” he added.
At the same rally, Trump seemed to take a different tone too on China, saying he had withheld some criticism of China because “I wanted them to help us with North Korea and they have.”