SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea is considering suspending talks with the United States and may rethink a ban on missile and nuclear tests unless Washington makes concessions, news reports from the North’s capital on Friday quoted a senior diplomat as saying.
Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui blamed top U.S. officials for the breakdown of last month’s summit in Hanoi between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Russia’s TASS news agency and the Associated Press said.
“We have no intention to yield to the U.S. demands (at the Hanoi summit) in any form, nor are we willing to engage in negotiations of this kind,” TASS quoted Choe as telling reporters in the North Korean capital.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton “created the atmosphere of hostility and mistrust and, therefore, obstructed the constructive effort for negotiations between the supreme leaders of North Korea and the United States”, TASS quoted Choe as saying.
Bolton told reporters outside the White House that he had seen the statement from the North Korean official and that “I think that’s inaccurate.” He said he had spoken to his South Korean counterpart but wanted to consult with other U.S. officials before responding further.
Representatives for U.S. Department of State did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Choe said Washington threw away a golden opportunity at the summit and warned that Kim might rethink a moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests, the AP said.
“I want to make it clear that the gangster-like stand of the U.S. will eventually put the situation in danger,” AP quoted her as saying. But she added: “Personal relations between the two supreme leaders are still good and the chemistry is mysteriously wonderful.”
South Korea, which has an ambitious agenda of engagement with North Korea that is dependent on Pyongyang and Washington resolving at least some of their differences, said it was too early to tell what Choe’s comments might mean.
“We cannot judge the current situation based solely on Vice Minister Choe Son Hui’s statements. We are watching the situation closely. In any situation, our government will endeavour for the restart of North Korea-U.S. negotiations,” South Korea’s presidential Blue House said in a statement.
Choe’s comments echoed the North’s usual rhetoric at tense points in its dealings with Washington. North Korea expert Joshua Pollack said North Korea may be delivering an ultimatum.
“They’re putting down a marker, saying which way things are headed if nothing changes,” Pollack, of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, said.
Joel Wit of think tank 38 North said North Korea was likely toughening its negotiating position after the collapse of the Hanoi summit. “It is likely to gauge the U.S. reaction in the days ahead before making a decision to launch a rocket,” he said.
“NO OVERNIGHT SOLUTION”
The second Trump-Kim summit broke down over differences about U.S. demands for Pyongyang to denuclearize and North Korea’s demand for dramatic relief from international sanctions imposed for its nuclear and missile tests, which it pursued for years in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Choe had said after the Hanoi talks that Kim might lose his commitment to pursue a deal with the United States after seeing it reject a request to lift some sanctions in return for the North destroying its main known nuclear complex.
In Washington this week, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, said the United States expected to be able to continue its close engagement, though he offered no specifics on when new talks might be held.
“Diplomacy is still very much alive,” Biegun said on Monday, but stopped short of saying if there had been any talks since the summit.
Bolton, who has argued for a tough approach to North Korea, said last week that Trump was open to more talks but also warned of tougher sanctions if the North did not denuclearize.
In Beijing, Premier Li Keqiang urged patience and further dialogue between North Korea and the United States.
“The peninsula problem can be said to be complicated and long-standing, and it cannot be solved overnight,” Li told an annual news conference on Friday, although his remarks were not made in response to the TASS report.
Earlier on Friday, a spokeswoman for South Korea’s Ministry of Unification told a press briefing that the weekly inter-Korean meeting scheduled at a liaison office in Kaesong, North Korea, had been cancelled after the North Koreans said they would not be sending senior officials.
The spokeswoman said the ministry had not confirmed why the North Korean officials decided not to attend.
The South Korean won fell to its weakest intraday level in four months soon after the report, whereas the stock market’s KOSPI was muted in its reaction.
South Korean and Japanese defence-related shares surged following the reports.