North Korea and the United States on Saturday sparred over an agreement reached at a landmark summit in June for the Asian country to end its nuclear program, as Washington called for maintaining sanctions pressure against Pyongyang, which in turn said it was alarmed by U.S. intentions.
The discord at a regional forum in Singapore was the latest reminder of the difficulties that have long impaired efforts to negotiate an end to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes, despite commitments made at an unprecedented summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the city state less than two months ago.
“The DPRK stands firm in its determination and commitment for implementing the DPRK-U.S. Joint Statement in a responsible and good-faith manner,” North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told the ASEAN Regional Forum, using his country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“What is alarming however is the insistent moves manifested within the U.S. to go back to the old, far from its leader’s intention,” he said.
Ri made the statement after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had left the Singapore conference centre for Indonesia having pressed Southeast Asian nations to maintain sanctions on North Korea until it gives up a nuclear weapons programme that now threatens the United States.
At the June 12 summit, Kim, who is seeking relief from tough sanctions, committed to work towards denuclearisation, but North Korea has offered no details on how it might go about this.
Pompeo suggested on Friday that continued work on weapons programmes by North Korea was inconsistent with Kim’s commitment to denuclearise. On Saturday, he nevertheless said he was optimistic a North Korean denuclearisation could be achieved although it “would take some time.”
Ri said North Korea had made goodwill gestures, including a moratorium on nuclear tests and rocket launches and the dismantling of a nuclear test ground.
“However, the United States, instead of responding to these measures, is raising its voice louder for maintaining the sanctions against the DPRK and showing the attitude to retreat even from declaring the end of the war, a very basic and primary step for providing peace on the Korean peninsula,” he said.
On Saturday, Pompeo said Washington took very seriously any relaxation of U.N. sanctions, calling out Russia for possibly violating a U.N. resolution by issuing work visas to North Korean workers.
WARNING TO MOSCOW
“I want to remind every nation that has supported these resolutions that this is a serious issue and something that we will discuss with Moscow,” Pompeo said.
“We expect the Russians and all countries to abide by the U.N. Security Council resolutions and enforce sanctions on North Korea.”
Russia has denied a report by the Wall Street Journal that said Moscow was allowing thousands of fresh North Korean labourers into the country and granting them work permits in a potential breach of U.N sanctions.
A senior U.S State Department official sought to play down Ri’s statement, saying it was to be expected.
“Much of the intervention was positive and that’s an improvement from the past,” the official said. “We’re building a relationship with North Korea after years of difficult relations.”
Since U.S. talks with North Korea resumed this year, Pompeo has primarily engaged with Kim Yong Chol, a top North Korean party official and former spy agency chief, not Ri.
Pompeo told a Senate committee hearing on July 25 that North Korea was continuing to produce fuel for nuclear bombs in spite of its denuclearisation pledge.
On Monday, a senior U.S. official said U.S. spy satellites had detected renewed activity at the North Korean factory that produced the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.