Sunday 3 March 2019 - 05:21

North Korean leader rethinking denuclearization talks with US: Top official

Story Code : 781063
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) attends a wreath laying ceremony at the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum in Vietnam
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) attends a wreath laying ceremony at the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum in Vietnam's capital, Hanoi, on March 2, 2019.

“I have a feeling that Chairman Kim may have lost the will (to continue) North Korea-US dealings," Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency Friday. "It's my personal feeling."

“I think about whether [we] should continue talks," she added, questioning the need to continue them after Trump said Thursday that he had to walk away from the meeting with Kim in Hanoi.

The American president said Pyongyang was ready to make concessions but not in areas that Washington had hoped for. He also claimed that Kim insisted on removing all US sanctions as a per-requisite to denuclearization.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, however, offered a starkly different breakdown of the summit, telling reporters in a separate presser that Pyongyang never asked for the removal of all sanctions.

According to him, Pyongyang had relayed to Trump that it was ready to "permanently and completely dismantle all the nuclear production facilities" at Yongbyon – its main site – if the US agreed to scrap sanctions "that hamper the civilian economy and the livelihood of our people."

Choe's remarks on Friday echoed those of Kim, who warned in his New Year's message that Pyongyang may take “a new path” if Washington keeps the country under pressure and sanctions.

Trump and Kim met at a historic summit in Singapore for the first time last year, where they agreed to work towards denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Subsequent diplomacy between the two sides, however, made little progress, mainly because the US refused to lift its harsh sanctions.

So far, Pyongyang has taken several steps toward the goal by suspending missile and nuclear testing, demolishing at least one nuclear test site, and agreeing to allow international inspectors into a missile engine test facility.

Washington, however, has insisted that sanctions on the North must remain in place until it completely and irreversibly dismantles its nuclear program.

Choe said in her remarks that Washington should have rewarded Pyongyang adequately by lifting at least some of the sanctions.

Before leaving Hanoi on Thursday night, Trump claimed that the talks collapsed because Kim wanted all the sanctions lifted without firmly committing to eliminate his nuclear weapons.

Ri, however, said Pyongyang was even ready to offer in writing a permanent halt of its nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

He blasted Trump for wasting an opportunity that “may not come again,” reaffirming that the North would not change its stance even if the US offered to resume another round of talks.

The Hanoi summit was held after at least a month of preparations, which had raised hopes of a major advancement toward reaching an agreement.

Trump's move in cutting short the talks drew fire from American politicians, including former Vice President Joe Biden who took a jab at the US president's style of diplomacy.

"The president treats everything like a real estate deal... 'just let me in the room I can convince the other party to make a deal,'" he said.

Biden, who is actively considering a run for the White House in 2020, said Trump needs to empower officials in his administration to negotiate. "It requires hard, hard, hard and consistent diplomacy," he said.

Summit collapse disappointed South Korea
The collapse of the summit also disappointed US-ally South Korea, which has been improving relations with the North since Kim and the South’s President Moon Jae-in met in January 2018.

Yonhap wrote on Friday that the clock on the Korean Peninsula’s security situation has “turned back to zero” and diplomacy was now “at a crossroads.”

President Moon said the summit's failure has made his government's role “more important” to help the two sides reach “a complete settlement by any means.”

The president, who has long favored engagement with the North, has set aside large investment and joint cross-border projects as incentives for steps towards denuclearization.

He made the remarks in a nationally televised address on Friday, saying although US sanctions blocked all channels for establishing the road and rail links with North Korea, he will “consult” with Washington to resume operations.