Following two days of talks between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean officials there were two very different versions of how things had gone. First came Pompeo’s view of things. The secretary of state called the talks in the North Korean capital “productive” and kept things generally upbeat. “These are complicated issues but we made progress on almost all of the central issues,” Pompeo said in Pyongyang before boarding a flight to Tokyo. “Some places, a great deal of progress, other places there’s still more work to be done.”
Hours later, North Korea made clear it saw things very differently, accusing the United States of pushing demands that violated the spirit of earlier agreements. “The U.S. side came up only with its unilateral and gangster-like demand[s] for denuclearization,” a spokesman for North Korea’s foreign ministry said. “All of which run counter to the spirit of the Singapore summit meeting and talks,” the statement added, referring to the June 12 summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The statement went on to warn the Trump administration of resorting to old strategies that prioritize “cancerous” issues and “amplify distrust and risk of war.”
The White House has not commented on the North Korean statement that seemed to provide the latest sign that any denuclearization in the region would not be happening in the near future. Recent intelligence has also suggested that North Korea has been expanding its weapons facilities rather than dismantling them. And there didn’t seem to be any progress in by what all accounts should have been a simpler issue—releasing the remains of American soldiers killed during the Korean war. For now, the only concrete development on that end is a promise of another meeting on July 12 to discuss that issue.
Despite the negative tone of its assessment on the talks, North Korea insisted that “we maintain our trust in President Trump.”
“This is classic North Korean negotiating tactics: Pocket concessions from the United States while stringing our discussions on their own commitments,” Abraham Denmark, a senior defense official for East Asia under former President Barack Obama, told Reuters. “This is a rejection of U.S. demands for unilateral denuclearization by North Korea, and a clear message that the U.S. will need to give up more to make progress.”
Others drew a more negative conclusion, saying the statement was a clear effort to pour cold water on expectations of any quick resolution. “I think it’s a pretty bad sign. Is this the end—I don’t know,” Joseph Yun, a U.S. special representative for North Korea policy who retired earlier this year, told the Wall Street Journal. “I think they want to completely reduce U.S.
As many analysts had warned, it also suggests Trump was overly optimistic in what he could accomplish in a short period of time. “It appears Trump took his victory lap a tad too soon,” Bruce Klingner, an Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation, told Bloomberg. “The diplomatic path remains open, but it will be far bumpier and far longer than the Trump administration had believed and described publicly.”