North Korea is considering dropping nuclear talks with the US and restarting missile launches and nuclear tests just weeks after Donald Trump walked out of denuclearisation talks with Kim Jong Un.
North Korea’s vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui told a news conference in Pyongyang that the US lost a golden opportunity to resolve the nuclear issue at the Hanoi summit between the two leaders, according to reports by the Associated Press and Russia’s Tass news agency. She added that North Korea would soon decide whether to continue talks with the US and maintain a 15-month moratorium on weapons tests.
Ms Choe said Pyongyang had no intention of compromising or continuing talks with Washington unless the US changed its “political calculation” and took measures to match the steps North Korea had taken toward denuclearisation.
“We have no intention to yield to the US demands [at the Hanoi summit] in any form, nor are we willing to engage in negotiations of this kind,” she was quoted by the Tass agency as saying.
Her comments came in contrast to the optimism expressed by Stephen Biegun, the chief US envoy for North Korea, about the outlook of the nuclear talks. Mr Biegun told a conference in Washington this week that “diplomacy is still very much alive” despite last month’s failed summit.
In Washington on Friday, Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, said the US continued to expect North Korea to abide by the promised moratorium.
“In Hanoi, on multiple occasions, [Mr Kim] spoke directly to the president and made a commitment that he would not resume nuclear testing, nor would he resume missile testing,” Mr Pompeo said. “So that’s Chairman Kim’s word. We have every expectation that he will live up to that commitment.”
The high-stakes meeting was cut short without a deal after Mr Trump rejected a North Korean offer to destroy Yongbyon — a sprawling site of nuclear facilities — in exchange for lifting all sanctions. Mr Trump said he had insisted that North Korea destroy all its nuclear facilities and revealed the US had discovered a clandestine uranium-enrichment facility.
Mr Biegun said Washington was closely watching the latest activity at a North Korean rocket site but he did not know if Pyongyang might be planning a new rocket launch. He admitted that the two sides remained far apart over denuclearisation and stressed that North Korea should show full commitment.
Although the state department has said talks with North Korea have continued, Mr Pompeo declined to discuss the negotiations.
Mr Pompeo did, however, deny accusations that he had lost the trust of North Korea. “My relationship with Kim Yong Chol is professional,” said Mr Pompeo. “We have detailed conversations. I expect that we will continue to do that.”
North Korea suspended its programme of missile launches and nuclear tests in 2017. But recent satellite images showed that North Korea may be rebuilding a rocket launch facility at a site that was partly destroyed last year.
Seoul’s presidential office said it was looking into Ms Choe’s comments and using all available channels to find out what she meant.
Analysts were divided about North Korea’s intentions. Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Dongguk University, said the country was just trying to gain leverage in future talks but was not likely to break its moratorium on weapons tests.
“I think her comments are in line with North Korea’s typical tactics to have advantages in talks. It is a reaction to hawkish comments from Washington about denuclearisation,” said Prof Kim. “I don’t think North Korea wants to drop nuclear talks. Mr Kim has come too far to go back to the years of missile launches and nuclear tests.”
But Lee Seong-hyon, an analyst at the Sejong Institute, cautioned that Pyongyang could actually follow through with its warning. “I don’t think it is a complete bluff. Mr Trump walking out of the Hanoi summit must have been very humiliating to Mr Kim, considering the Asian culture,” he said. “He is likely to take some steps to add pressure on Washington as the US is turning more hawkish, demanding a comprehensive denuclearisation deal.”