Pompeo to push sanctions at Asean forum

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Pompeo to push sanctions at Asean forum

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday did not rule out the possibility of Secretary Mike Pompeo meeting with his North Korean counterpart on the sidelines of the Asean Regional Forum (ARF) this week in Singapore, but it also emphasized that stringent sanctions on Pyongyang would remain in place.

Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and other countries with security interests in the region are set to engage in a series of meetings over Friday and Saturday in Singapore, which was also the venue of the first summit between a sitting U.S. president and North Korean leader.

“North Korea will be a participant at the Asean meetings,” Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, said in a press briefing on Tuesday. “They have been for many years now. We will be in some of the same meetings as North Korean government officials. I certainly can’t preclude any interaction taking place.”

But she added that no bilateral meeting between Pompeo and North Korean officials has been scheduled or planned yet. Pompeo kicks off his five-day Southeast Asia tour to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Singapore; and Jakarta, Indonesia, on Wednesday.

The ARF, one of the rare regional security conferences in which North Korea regularly sends its foreign minister to participate, will also involve other members of the currently defunct six-party talks on North Korea’s denuclearization, including China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha arrived in Singapore on Tuesday and is hoping to arrange bilateral talks with her North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong-ho.

Nauert added that sanctions on North Korea would “remain firmly in place” and that Pompeo, during his trip, “will certainly have conversations with his counterparts from other governments about the importance of maintaining those sanctions and keeping sanctions in place.”

The sanctions are “in large part what brought Kim Jong-un to the table,” she said, and “certainly more needs to be done.” Countries “need to make sure that they are fully enforcing” the UN Security Council resolution, she added. On recent reports that North Korea may still be producing intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, Nauert said the State Department was “very well aware” of those reports but would not verify them.

She referred to the “commitment to denuclearize” that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made to U.S. President Donald Trump at their summit in June and said, “We certainly anticipate that [Kim] will hold up his end of the bargain.”

Nauert noted the repatriation ceremony of the remains of U.S. soldiers killed during the 1950-53 Korean War held at Osan Air Base in South Korea on Wednesday. North Korea, keeping a promise made at the June summit, returned 55 cases last week to the U.S. military.

“We see that as Chairman Kim fulfilling part of the commitment that he made to the president to return the remains of our fallen service members,” she said, clarifying that “North Korea did not ask for any money nor did we offer any money for the remains.”

The return of the remains came after Pompeo’s third visit to Pyongyang in early July. It was during that visit where he last met with Foreign Minister Ri.

Analysts have interpreted North Korea’s repatriation of remains as a gesture of good will that could put stalled denuclearization talks back on track. Cranking up the pressure on sanctions could be seen as another tactic by the United States to get negotiations moving, since North Korea has been pressing for relief.

Noting that North Korean officials will be present at the ARF, where there will be discussions about denuclearization, a senior State Department official told reporters on Tuesday, “I think it’s a good opportunity for me to emphasize that our goal vis-a-vis North Korea remains the same, and that is to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of the DPRK, as agreed to by Chairman Kim in Singapore just a short few weeks back.” DPRK is the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The official also raised concerns “about the scale of North Korea’s illicit procurement,” in particular of refined petroleum products and illegal ship-to-ship transfers. He said this issue would be raised at the Asean meetings. “I think it’s a good opportunity to reiterate, from our perspective, all UN member states are required to implement UN Security Council sanctions, resolutions, and we expect them all to continue doing so,” the official said.

The stern warning came as Voice of America reported on Tuesday that the United States supported the shutdown of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, considered the last vestige of inter-Korean economic cooperation, in February 2016.

A U.S. State Department official told Voice of America, “We support the 2016 decision to shut down the Kaesong Complex in the face of the DPRK’s destabilizing and provocative actions,” citing concerns about the North’s “growing threat and flagrant disregard” of international sanctions.

The North’s state newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, in an editorial this week vented about the slow pace of reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex and resuming tours for South Koreans on Mount Kumgang.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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