Mike Pompeo abruptly cancels meeting with North Korea as negotiations stall
A high-stakes meeting between Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s righthand man was shelved on Wednesday, marking a potential setback in nuclear disarmament talks.
The planned meeting on Thursday in New York with Kim Yong Chol, a former intelligence chief, had been billed as an opportunity to get stalled negotiations on North Korean denuclearisation back on track.
Pyongyang and Washington have been at loggerheads over the pace of dismantling the North’s nuclear missiles’ programme since the two countries’ leaders agreed at a historic Singapore summit in June to move towards denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
North Korea’s foreign ministry warned over the weekend that Pyongyang would “seriously” consider reviving its nuclear weapons programme unless US sanctions are lifted, but Mr Pompeo dismissed the threat as “rhetoric” and said he expected “real progress” from the New York meeting.
Those plans were abruptly halted on Wednesday by an announcement from the state department that the meeting had been postponed and would be rescheduled “when our respective schedules permit.”
“The United States remains focused on fulfilling the commitments agreed to by President Trump and Chairman Kim at the Singapore summit in June,” it said.
Two diplomatic sources told CNN that the move was clearly a signal that North Korea has not been willing to cooperate with Washington’s expectations up to this point.
However, a senior South Korean foreign ministry official said that although the rescheduling was regrettable, there was no need to “overthink the postponement”, according to Yonhap news agency on Wednesday.
“I think we have to look at it as a part of the process of reaching complete denuclearisation and setting up a peace regime,” Yonhap cited the unnamed official as saying.
Mr Pompeo had stated on Sunday that he was not worried about North Korea’s rhetoric as “we’ve seen this as we go through negotiations. Stray voltage happens to be all around us.”
Before its postponement, the meeting agenda had been to “discuss making progress on all four pillars of the Singapore Summit joint statement, including achieving the final, fully verified denuclearisation” of North Korea, the State Department had said this week.
The secretary of state had been expected to also use the occasion to lay the groundwork for a second summit between Donald Trump, the US president, and Kim Jong-un, which is likely to take place early next year.
The decision to reschedule the meeting came in the middle of the night as results from the US midterm elections came in.
President Trump’s Republican party lost control of the U.S. House of Representatives after the Democrats rode a wave of dissatisfaction with his presidency.
While Republicans maintained control of the Senate, the Democrats now have the opportunity to block Trump’s agenda and open his administration to intense scrutiny.
Some analysts suggest a domestically weakened Trump may impact his foreign policy, even test his North Korean diplomatic gambit.
Meanwhile in North Korea, NK News reported that a building in Pyongyang used by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) caught fire in mid-August, causing a logistical setback for the media service often described as a mouthpiece of the regime.
“Smoke rose from the building and it was just chaos, I heard. The fire broke out in a studio room. I heard the story from people who worked near the building,” a Pyongyang-based source told the site, which also cited a unnamed defector as saying the studio was “extensively damaged.”
The defector alleged that those responsible were punished and may have received the death penalty.