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North Korea threatens to scuttle talks with US and resume tests

Kim and Trump’s personal are, however ‘still good and the chemistry is mysteriously wonderful’

By Choe Sang-Hun/NYTNS
  • Published 15.03.19, 3:13 PM
  • Updated 15.03.19, 3:13 PM
  • 3 mins read
  •  
Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump take a walk after their first meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam, on February 28, 2019. AP

North Korea on Friday threatened to suspend negotiations with the Trump administration over the North’s nuclear arms programme and said its leader, Kim Jong-un, would soon decide whether to resume nuclear and missile tests.

Addressing diplomats and foreign correspondents at a news conference in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui said that personal relations between Kim and Trump were “still good and the chemistry is mysteriously wonderful”.

But she said secretary of state Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, had created an “atmosphere of hostility and mistrust” that thwarted the top leaders’ negotiations in Hanoi last month.

After the Hanoi meeting ended without a deal, the North Korean leader had serious doubts about the merits of continuing negotiations with Trump, Choe said.

“We have neither the intention to compromise with the US in any form nor much less the desire or plan to conduct this kind of negotiation,” said Choe, according a report from Pyongyang by The Associated Press, which has a bureau there.

She also said the North might end its self-imposed moratorium on tests of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

“Whether to maintain this moratorium or not is the decision of our chairman of the state affairs commission,” she said, referring to Kim by one of his several titles. “He will make his decision in a short period of time.”

The office of South Korea’s President, Moon Jae-in, who did much to broker the talks between the North and the United States, said it was closely monitoring the situation. “Whatever the situation, our government will try its best to help resume North Korea-US negotiations,” it said in a statement.

The breakdown of the Hanoi meeting revealed a wide gap between North Korea and the United States over how to proceed with denuclearisation.

North Korea insisted, as it has before, on moving in phases. In Hanoi, Kim offered to dismantle the plutonium, uranium-enrichment and other facilities at its Yongbyon site, north of Pyongyang, and demanded that Washington in return lift sanctions that have been imposed on the North since 2016.

Trump rejected the offer, demanding more substantial steps toward denuclearization. North Korea is widely believed to run at least one other uranium-enrichment plant outside Yongbyon, as well as keeping other elements of its nuclear program in secret locations around the mountainous country.

US officials said the North essentially demanded the lifting of all key sanctions at the Hanoi talks, while North Korea said it wanted only the removal of sanctions that affected its civilian economy.

US officials fear that an early lifting of sanctions would end up subsidising the North’s weapons programme. UN sanctions ban all of the North’s key exports, including coal, and drastically cut back its fuel imports.

Kim took a 65-hour train ride to meet Trump in Hanoi, and it was seen as a major embarrassment for him to return home without badly needed sanctions relief.

By avoiding direct criticism of Trump and blaming the Hanoi talks’ breakdown mainly on his aides, Choe appeared to signal that North Korea still hoped Trump might soften Washington’s position.

But since the Hanoi talks, analysts have feared that North Korea might resume weapons tests in a bid to gain more leverage, and Choe’s warnings Friday could be a sign that North Korea is preparing to move in that direction.

“On our way back to the homeland, our chairman of the state affairs commission said, ‘For what reason do we have to make this train trip again?'” Choe said Friday, according to the AP. “I want to make it clear that the gangsterlike stand of the U.S. will eventually put the situation in danger.”

She said the United States had thrown away “a golden opportunity” in Hanoi, adding that the North was no longer interested in negotiating unless Washington changed its “political calculation.”

North Korea declared a moratorium on its nuclear and long-range missile tests after flight-testing its Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile in November 2017. A resumption of tests could scuttle the rapprochement between North Korea and the United States that began last year, after a series of belligerent threats from both sides during Trump’s first year in office.

c.2019 New York Times News Service

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