North Korea and Washington had two different views of their nuclear talks, with North Korea’s negotiator saying the meeting had broken down but Washington maintaining that the two sides had “good discussions” in Sweden which it intends to build on in two weeks.
North Korean negotiator Kim Myong Gil said the talks in Stockholm on Saturday had “not fulfilled our expectations and broke down. I am very displeased about it.”
Speaking outside the North Korean Embassy, he said that negotiations broke down “entirely because the US has not discarded its old stance and attitude” and came to the negotiating table with an “empty hand”.
Saturday’s talks were the first between the US and North Korea since the February breakdown of the second summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Vietnam. The two leaders held a brief, impromptu meeting at the Korean border in late June and agreed to re-start diplomacy.
North Korea has since resumed missile and other weapons tests, including the first test of an underwater-launched missile in three years that fell inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone on Wednesday.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the negotiator’s comments did “not reflect the content or the spirit” of the “good discussions” that took place over eight-and-a-half hours, adding that the US accepted an invitation from Sweden to return to Stockholm in two weeks to continue discussions.
Mr Kim said North Korea proposed a suspension of talks until December.
The Vietnam summit fell apart because Mr Trump rejected Kim Jong Un’s calls for extensive sanctions relief in return for dismantling his main nuclear complex, a partial disarmament step.
North Korea has since demanded the United States come up with mutually acceptable proposals to salvage the nuclear diplomacy by the end of this year.
During the Stockholm meeting, Kim Myong Gil said North Korea made it clear that the two countries can discuss next denuclearisation steps by North Korea if the US “sincerely responds” to the previous North Korean measures including the suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests and closing its underground nuclear testing site. He called the North Korean stance “practical and reasonable”.
Mr Kim repeated North Korea’s previous statement that the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula will only be possible when “all hurdles endangering our safety and obstructing our development are removed clearly and undoubtedly”.
He said whether North Korea will lift its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests is completely up to the United States.
North Korea has said it was compelled to develop nuclear weapons to cope with a US military threat.
Before entering nuclear disarmament negotiations early last year, North Korea argued that it would abandon its nuclear programme unless the US withdraws its 28,500 troops from South Korea, ends its military drills with South Korea, and takes other steps that guarantee North Korea’s security.
In a statement, Mr Ortagus said the US delegation “previewed a number of new initiatives that would allow us to make progress in each of the four pillars” of a joint statement issued after Mr Trump and Mr Kim’s first summit in Singapore.
“The United States and the DPRK will not overcome a legacy of 70 years of war and hostility on the Korean Peninsula through the course of a single Saturday,” Mr Ortagus said. The DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.
Talks were held at the Villa Elfvik Strand conference facility in Lidingo, an island in the Stockholm archipelago located north-east of the capital, Swedish news agency TT said.
It added that Kim Myong Gil arrived on Thursday with US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun flying in on Friday.
Because the US does not have official diplomatic relations with North Korea, Sweden has often acted as a bridge between Washington and Pyongyang.