Pompeo hopeful, in spite of North

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Pompeo hopeful, in spite of North

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday said he remained hopeful about resuming denuclearization negotiations with North Korea, in spite of Pyongyang’s statement that day accusing him of making “reckless” remarks that made it lose interest in dialogue.

In a remote press conference with Asian news outlets including Seoul’s Yonhap News Agency on Monday, Pompeo said that while he wished the North would relent and move forward with talks, Washington would continue enforcing international sanctions on the communist state until “sufficient progress” is reached.

The secretary’s comments reflected the Donald Trump administration’s unwavering stance regarding the question of sanctions relief - the most contentious issue between the two countries that has left negotiations deadlocked for months.

On Monday evening, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry put out a statement through its official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) arguing that Pompeo had put a damper on further dialogue by calling for continued sanctions and pressure on Pyongyang at a Group of 7 Foreign Ministers’ teleconference on March 25.

Whereas U.S. President Trump conveyed a “sincere aid plan” regarding the novel coronavirus outbreak in a personal letter dispatched to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un this month, Pompeo’s remarks showed the U.S. call for talks was “nothing but a decoy to keep us from going our own way,” read the statement’s English-language version.

“What the U.S. should know clearly is that it must admit that neither threat nor witchcraft can work on us,” said the statement, released in the name of a new department director at the North’s Foreign Ministry in charge of talks with the United States.

“Hearing Pompeo’s reckless remarks, we dropped the interest in dialogue with further conviction, but have become more zealous for our important planned projects aimed to repay the U.S. with actual horror and unrest for the sufferings it has inflicted upon our people.”

The North’s new official, who remained unnamed in the statement, concluded by saying Washington had no power to stop Pyongyang’s march forward on its “own way,” and that any attempts to do so would lead to the United States being “hurt.”

Such an aggressive response from the regime denotes it has no intention to acquiesce to U.S. conditions for sanctions relief, which would have it take major steps toward discarding its nuclear capacity before economic concessions are granted.

It is not known what is meant by the North’s claim to go on its “own way,” but the phrase has been repeatedly used by its officials - including Kim himself - to signal Pyongyang intends to maintain and build on the country’s nuclear and missile programs to a more threatening degree.

The statement also noted the apparent incongruities in Trump and Pompeo’s messages on the North, going as far as to say the differences made it “misjudge who is the real chief executive in the U.S.” Given how closely the North monitors power dynamics in the domestic politics of its adversaries, such a comment can be interpreted as playing to Trump’s tendency to assert his dominance over the policymaking in his administration.

Analysts in South Korea also noted the statement’s attribution to a new chief of negotiations in the North’s Foreign Ministry suggested Pyongyang is still interested in talks with Washington, contrary to its own claim.

“The fact that [the regime] has unveiled a new position with the exclusive purpose of handling the negotiations with the United States shows it is preparing for talks with the United States currently as well as in the future,” said Lim Eul-chul, a North Korea expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies in South Korea.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry, the South’s top body in charge of inter-Korean relations, said Tuesday it remained unclear what the nature of that position was, and whether it overlapped with the prerogatives of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s North America Department.

With speculation growing in the South that the North may have made significant personnel changes to its diplomatic corps in charge of relations with the United States, a Unification Ministry official told reporters that the matter of Monday’s statement was “sensitive” but that Seoul would continue to work toward promoting renewed dialogue with Pyongyang.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]
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