Meetings between US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and North Korean officials planned for later this week have been postponed, in a new sign of tension as the regime seeks sanctions relief before taking key disarmament steps.
US State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement that meetings with North Korean official Kim Yong Chol scheduled for Thursday in New York City would take place at “a later date,” without citing a reason. She said the two sides would meet when “our respective schedules permit,” and that the administration remained focused on fulfilling Kim Jong-un’s pledge to “denuclearise” during his June meeting with President Donald Trump.
While US and South Korean officials had expressed hope the talks could make some progress—including laying the ground for a second Trump-Kim meeting—North Korea has in recent weeks stepped up calls for sanctions relief. A think tank affiliated with the foreign ministry in Pyongyang warned that the regime could resume nuclear work, if the US side didn’t relax an economic blockade. Meanwhile, a satellite imagery analysis published by the website 38 North suggested that North Korea was continuing uranium mining and milling operations at one of the country’s largest declared uranium ore concentrate facilities. Kim Jong-un leveled an unusually direct criticism of sanctions last week, saying the “vicious” measures stood in the way of the country’s development and that he wouldn’t be forced into “change and submission.”
Still, Pompeo had predicted “real progress” as recently as Sunday. “I’m confident that we’ll advance the ball again this week when I’m in New York City,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
The meeting in New York was expected to be the first between Trump’s special North Korean envoy, Stephen Biegun, and his counterpart, Choe Son Hui. The former Ford Motor Co. executive hasn’t participated in working-level talks, despite being appointed more than two months ago.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s office said the US notified the government of the delay. The Foreign Ministry in Seoul cautioned against reading too much into the decision, the Yonhap News Agency reported, citing an unidentified senior official.