Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted that North Korea is keeping open the possibility of continued talks after Pyongyang's deputy foreign minister said they might walk from negotiations, criticizing the top US diplomat and national security adviser John Bolton for creating "an atmosphere of hostility."
"She left open the possibility that negotiations continue," Pompeo said when asked about the official's comments Friday at the State Department, where he also touched on the International Criminal Court and the brutal attack on two mosques in New Zealand. "We are hopeful we can continue to have conversations and negotiations."
As for the personal criticism, the top US diplomat said, "they're wrong about that." Deputy Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui had taken pains to tell reporters that President Donald Trump was not the problem, stressing that ties between him and leader Kim Jong Un were "still good and the chemistry is mysteriously wonderful," according to the New York times.
Pompeo appeared to dismiss the rhetoric as a bargaining ploy or an attempt to drive a wedge between the US team and described his interactions as professional.
'Not the first time'
"It's not the first time," Pompeo said, referring to the name-calling. "I have a vague recollection of being called gangster-like."
The North Koreans slapped Pompeo with that epithet after talks in July, accusing him of pursuing "a unilateral and gangster-like demand for denucearization" after talks the top US diplomat had called "productive."
Choe told reporters Friday that North Korea has "no intention to yield to the US demands" put forward at the February summit between Trump and Kim in Hanoi, "in any form, nor are we willing to engage in negotiations of this kind."
Choe blamed the breakdown of talks on the US side, saying the American delegation was being too demanding and inflexible: [The US] "were too busy with pursuing their own political interests and had no sincere intention to achieve a result," Choe added, according to Russian state news agency TASS.
Choe said the North was deeply disappointed by the failure of the two sides to reach any agreements, according to TASS. The summit ended abruptly without a joint agreement after Kim insisted that all US sanctions on his country be lifted.
Trump, who has said the US has ended the nuclear threat from North Korea, said Kim had offered to take some steps to dismantle his nuclear arsenal, but hadn't gone far enough. "Sometimes you have to walk, this was just one of those times," Trump said of his early departure from the summit, insisting he was in no rush to strike a deal.
Satellite imagery has revealed activity at a North Korea rocket site, though US officials say there's no signs yet that Pyongyang is preparing to restart testing.
At the State Department on Monday, Pompeo said that the North Korean offer in Hanoi "simply didn't rise to the level that was acceptable given what they were asking for in exchange."
The price for the lifting of US and United Nation's sanctions, Pompeo said, is denuclearization. He referred more than once to Kim's verbal pledge to denuclearize, which has not been formalized. "That's the requirement laid out by the United Nations Security Council," he said.
"We continue to work" to deliver on that, Pompeo said. In the meantime, he said, "we have stopped missile testing and nuclear testing."
"In Hanoi, on multiple occasions, he spoke directly to the President and made a commitment that he would not resume nuclear testing" or missile testing, Pompeo said. "That's Chairman Kim's word, I have every expectation he'll live up to that."
Diplomacy 'still very much alive'
On Monday, the US special representative for North Korea said Washington would not accept a phased denuclearization by Pyongyang and maintained that the two nations remain closely engaged despite the collapse of the Hanoi summit.
"Let me start by saying the obvious -- that diplomacy is still very much alive," Stephen Biegun said at the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington, DC, on Monday. "While we haven't made as much progress in the six months as I would've hoped coming in on the first day, we stay closely engaged with our counterparts in North Korea."
Bolton also disputed Choe's characterization that he and Pompeo had created a "hostile atmosphere" as "inaccurate," and said he had discussed the reports from North Korea with his South Korean counterparts this morning.
"Well I think that's inaccurate, but the President is our decision maker," Bolton told reporters on the White House North Lawn on Friday. "I've seen the statement you're referring to. Just in the past hour, I spoke with my South Korean counterpart and we've discussed their reaction and our reaction, but I would like to speak further within US government before we respond."
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