US will not ease sanctions until North Korea denuclearises – Secretary of State

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said there will be no sanctions relief for North Korea until it denuclearises.

Mr Pompeo was pushing back on a report from North Korean official state media that said President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un had agreed to a “step-by-step” process.

Earlier Mr Trump boasted that his summit with Mr Kim had ended any nuclear threat from North Korea, though the meeting produced no details on how or when weapons might be eliminated or even reduced.

While Mr Trump claimed a historic breakthrough at the most significant diplomatic event of his presidency, Mr Pompeo was more measured.

He said that the US wants North Korea to take “major” nuclear disarmament steps within the next two years — before the end of Mr Trump’s first term in 2021.

And while North Korean state media had claimed that Mr Trump and Mr Kim agreed to “step-by-step” actions — an apparent euphemism for phased sanctions relief in exchange for phased denuclearisation — Mr Pompeo ruled that out.

He insisted that Mr Trump had been explicit about the sequencing from the start.

“We’re going to get denuclearisation,” Mr Pompeo said. “Only then will there be relief from the sanctions.”

Shortly after arriving in Seoul to brief US treaty allies Japan and South Korea, Mr Pompeo also cautioned that the US would resume “war games” with close ally South Korea if the North stops negotiating in good faith.

The president had announced a halt in the drills after his meeting with Mr Kim on Tuesday, a concession long sought by Pyongyang but generally opposed by Seoul and Tokyo.

After a three-way meeting with Mr Pompeo and Japan’s top diplomat, South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha suggested the US still had some explaining to do, telling reporters that the issue of the drills “was not discussed in depth”.

“This is a matter that military officials from South Korea and the United States will have to discuss further and coordinate,” Ms Kang said.

The summit in Singapore did mark a reduction in tensions — a sea change from last fall, when North Korea was conducting nuclear and missile tests and Mr Trump and Mr Kim were trading threats and insults that stoked fears of war.

Mr Kim is now promising to work toward a denuclearised Korean Peninsula.

But the details of what is sure to be a complex and contentious process have yet to be settled.

South Korea US Japan
Mike Pompeo shakes hands with South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha as Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono looks on at their joint press conference (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

“Just landed – a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office,” Mr Trump tweeted early on Wednesday.

“There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Mr Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!”

Mr Pompeo said the brief, four-point joint statement that emerged from the summit did not encapsulate all the progress the US and North Korea had made. He said negotiations would recommence “in the next week or so”.

He bristled at questions from reporters about the vague wording of the statement where North Korea “commits to work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula” — a promise it has made several times before in the past 25 years and reneged on.

Although Mr Trump before the summit had insisted on “complete, verifiable and irreversible” denuclearisation, the deal he signed with Mr Kim made no mention of those last two conditions.

Irrelevant, Mr Pompeo argued on Thursday in Seoul, noting that because the deal makes reference to a previous agreement that did include verification, it automatically “incorporates” verification without having to state it outright.

On Thursday, the rival Koreas held rare high-level military talks to discuss reducing tensions across their heavily fortified border. It is possible North Korean officials will seek a firm commitment from the South on stopping its military drills with the United States.

Seoul’s Defense Ministry said the talks would focus on carrying out agreements from a summit between Mr Kim and South Korean president Moon Jae-in where they vowed to take materialised steps to reduce military tensions and eliminate the danger of war.

In public, at least, South Korea’s leader sought to put a positive spin on the summit’s outcome. Meeting briefly with Mr Pompeo on Thursday morning, Mr Moon said he was eager to hear how the United States and North Korea could “fully and expeditiously implement this great agreement”.

“The summit was a truly historic feat which moved us from the era of hostility towards the era of dialogue, of peace and prosperity,” Mr Moon said through a translator

Mr Pompeo, the former CIA director, planned to fly to Beijing later Thursday to update the Chinese government about the talks.

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