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North Korea stalls on next talks with U.S.

Oct 25,2018
Pyongyang is not coming up with a time and location for the next U.S.-North high-level talks, a senior South Korean government official said Tuesday, lending to a “frustrating” situation.

John Bolton, the White House national security adviser, told Russia’s Echo Moskvy radio station Tuesday that he expects the second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to happen after Jan. 1. That delay of the North-U.S. summit puts a further damper on Seoul’s plans for a declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War to take place within this year.

The high-level official familiar with the negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington told reporters that an early end-of-war declaration “depends on when the [North-U.S.] working-level talks start and how in-depth their agreement is.”

He noted that the United States considers a declaration to end the war as “part of a bigger picture” in the denuclearization negotiations, and that details “will become more concrete during the working-level negotiation process.”

The official added that “if working-level talks take place, it is not impossible for it to happen within the year.”

He indicated that Washington considered the declaration to end the war as just one of its negotiating cards in the ongoing denuclearization dialogue.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hinted one week ago in an interview with Voice of America (VOA) that a “senior leader meetings” could take place “in the next week and a half or so,” which would be a “real opportunity to make another big step forward on denuclearization.”

Pompeo visited Pyongyang for a fourth time and met with North Korean leader Kim on Oct. 7, where the two agreed to further working-level talks as well.

But working-level talks between Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, and Pyongyang’s Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui have not moved forward since.

This high-level official further said, “What is frustrating is that the United States is prepared to meet them at any time, but North Korea is not giving a definite date and location.”

However, the official added North Korea “will get in touch for the working-level talks because, so long as Kim Jong-un instructed Vice Foreign Minister Choe, it is an order that cannot be ignored.”

Likewise, Washington has not yet been able to confirm which high-level official North Korea would dispatch as Pompeo’s counterpart, though figures such as the leader’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong have been considered possible.

Kim, first vice director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of North Korea, played a role as a de facto chief of staff for her brother during the June 12 Singapore talks with Trump, and could play an influential role should she be Pompeo’s dialogue counterpart.

During Pompeo’s Pyongyang visit earlier this month, she sat at the negotiating table with her brother, even when Kim Yong-chol, the vice chairman of the Workers’ Party, was in the same building. However, the official pointed out “it is unclear if she can immediately leave the country at the moment.”

There is also the possibility that Pyongyang is waiting to see the results of the U.S. midterm elections on Nov. 6 before scheduling a summit.

“For North Korea, they are playing a game putting on line the dismantlement of all its nuclear weapons and facilities,” the official added, “hence they are preparing thoroughly, which is why it is taking so much time.”

Pyongyang has also been demanding sanctions relief rather than an end-of-war declaration as a corresponding measure from Washington.

A U.S. State Department official told the VOA Tuesday, “Sanctions will remain in full effect should North Korea fail to denuclearize,” adding that the “full implementation of UN Security Council resolutions by the international community brought us to this moment, and are necessary for a successful outcome of this process.”

Trump, said this official, has been clear that “sanctions relief will follow denuclearization, and the sooner we get to that point, the sooner we can lift sanctions.”

Lee Do-hoon, the South Korean Foreign Ministry’s special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, made a three-day visit to Washington since Sunday and had talks with his U.S. counterpart, Biegun, on Monday, discussing the U.S.-North denuclearization negotiations, a second Kim-Trump summit and rallying China and Russia’s support.

Lee visited Beijing last week, meeting with his Chinese counterpart Kong Xuanyou, who recently had a trilateral meeting in Moscow with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe and Russia’s top nuclear envoy, Igor Morgulov, where they called for some sanctions relief.

“North Korea has proven to be a master in past negotiations at splitting partners apart,” said Susan Thornton, the former U.S. acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, at the Harvard Kennedy School Monday.

BY SARAH KIM, JUNG HYO-SIK [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]