North Korea criticizes ‘alarming’ US impatience on denuclearization
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North Korea criticizes ‘alarming’ US impatience on denuclearization

Pyongyang slams Trump administration for insisting on sanctions enforcement as part of vague disarmament deal struck in June

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) chats with North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho (R) as Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano (behind) looks on, as they arrive for a group photo at the ASEAN Regional Forum Retreat during the 51st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in Singapore on August 4, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) chats with North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho (R) as Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano (behind) looks on, as they arrive for a group photo at the ASEAN Regional Forum Retreat during the 51st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in Singapore on August 4, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN

SINGAPORE (AFP) — North Korea on Saturday said the US was acting with “alarming” impatience on the issue of denuclearization, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stressed the need to maintain full sanctions pressure on Pyongyang.

The contrasting comments at a security forum in Singapore came after a new UN report showed Pyongyang was continuing with its nuclear and missile programs and evading sanctions through ship-to-ship oil transfers.

At historic talks with US President Donald Trump in June, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un signed up to a vague commitment to “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” — a far cry from long-standing US demands for complete, verifiable, and irreversible disarmament.

While US officials have publicly been optimistic about the agreement, Pyongyang appears to have made little substantial progress and concerns have been growing that some UN member states have been easing sanctions.

At the ASEAN Regional Forum, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho insisted North Korea stood “firm in its determination and commitment” to implement the June agreement signed in Singapore.

But he criticized the US for undermining confidence in the process: “What is alarming, however, is the insistent moves manifested within the US to go back to the old, far from its leader’s intention.”

US President Donald Trump (R) and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un shake hands following a signing ceremony during their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB)

Since the June agreement, Pyongyang had taken “goodwill measures,” including a halt on nuclear and missile tests and “dismantling a nuclear test ground,” he said, according to a statement.

Sanctions worries

“However, the United States, instead of responding to these measures, is raising its voice louder for maintaining the sanctions against the DPRK,” he said, using the initials of the North’s official name.

“As long as the US does not show in practice its strong will to remove our concerns, there will be no case whereby we will move forward first unilaterally,” Ri added.

Ri also accused the US of “extremely inappropriate” behavior by putting pressure on other countries not to send high-level delegations to celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of North Korea in September.

It was not the first time the North has appeared unhappy at what it sees as US impatience to push them quickly along the path of denuclearization.

When Pompeo met with North Korean officials in Pyongyang last month to flesh out the regime’s commitment, they condemned his “gangster-like” insistence that the North move towards unilateral disarmament.

Earlier at the same forum, Pompeo said he was emphasizing to countries “the importance of maintaining diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea” but also said that he was “optimistic” about the prospects for progress when it came to North Korean denuclearization.

Saturday’s forum, hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), brings together top diplomats from 26 countries and the European Union for talks on political and security issues in the Asia-Pacific.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Kim Yong Chol, right, a North Korean senior ruling party official and former intelligence chief, meet at the Park Hwa Guest House in Pyongyang, North Korea, Friday, July 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

As well as the US and North Korea, it includes foreign ministers from China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan, all countries traditionally involved in efforts to curtail the North’s nuclear ambition.

At the meeting, the US delegation also delivered a letter from Trump intended for Kim, by passing it to Ri, Pompeo said in a tweet.

It was Trump’s reply to a letter he received from Kim earlier this week, he said.

All smiles

Pompeo also briefly met the North’s foreign minister Saturday. The US top diplomat went over to greet him at a joint photo of ministers ahead of the day’s main forum, with the pair shaking hands, smiling, and exchanging some words.

While the encounter was brief, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert described it as a “step in the right direction,” given where US-North Korea relations were a year ago as tensions soared due to the North’s weapons tests.

Pompeo had already left the forum to fly to the next stop on his trip, Indonesia, when Ri delivered his fiery statement, she said.

On sanctions, Pompeo singled out Russia after reports suggested Moscow breached the measures by granting work permits to North Korean workers.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a meeting in Pyongyang on May 31, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / TASS/POOL / Valery SHARIFULIN)

During meetings with other foreign ministers in Singapore, Pompeo said he had called specifically for sanctions to be enforced through halting ship-to-ship oil transfers.

Cutting off oil and fuel to the North would require enforcement primarily by China, which supplies most of North Korea’s energy needs, but also by Russia, which delivers some oil to Pyongyang.

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