North Korea said Sunday that it won’t meet with the United States for more “sickening negotiations” unless it abandons its “hostile policy” against the North, as the two countries offered different takes on their weekend nuclear talks in Sweden.
After their first talks in more than seven months in Stockholm on Saturday, the chief North Korean nuclear negotiator said the discussions broke down “entirely because the U.S. has not discarded its old stance and attitude” and came to the negotiating table with an “empty hand.” But the U.S. said the two sides had “good discussions” that it intends to build on with more talks in two weeks.
On Sunday night, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement accusing the U.S. of trying to mislead the public and “spreading a completely ungrounded story that both sides are open to meet” again.
The statement said the Stockholm talks “made us think they have no political will to improve (North Korea)-U.S. relations and may be abusing the bilateral relations for their own partisan interests” at home.
It said North Korea isn’t willing to hold “such sickening negotiations” as those in Stockholm until the U.S. takes “a substantial step to make complete and irreversible withdrawal of the hostile policy toward” the North.
The statement didn’t say which U.S. policies it was referring to. But North Korea has previously accused the United States of plotting an invasion of the country and maintained that U.S.-led sanctions against the North are stifling its economy.
Kim Myong Gil, the main North Korean negotiator at the Stockholm talks, said that since the first summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June 2018, the U.S. has been threatening his country with fresh unilateral sanctions and military exercises with South Korea.
When it entered talks with the U.S. last year, North Korea said it was willing to deal away its advancing nuclear arsenal in return for outside political and economic benefits. But many foreign experts doubt whether North Korea would completely abandon a nuclear program that it has built after decades of struggle.
Before the Singapore talks, North Korea had long said it would denuclearize only if the U.S. withdraws its 28,500 troops from South Korea, ends military drills with the South and takes other steps to guarantee the North’s security.
Saturday’s talks were the first between the sides since the second Trump-Kim summit in Vietnam in February collapsed due to squabbling over how much sanctions relief should be given to North Korea in return for dismantling its main nuclear complex. The two leaders held a brief, impromptu meeting at the Korean border in late June and agreed to restart diplomacy.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the chief North Korean negotiator’s comments about Saturday’s talks did “not reflect the content or the spirit” of the “good discussions” that took place over 8 ½ hours. She said the U.S. 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 Trump and Kim’s first summit in Singapore in June 2018.
Sweden acts as bridge
Ortagus also said the U.S. accepted an invitation from Sweden to return to Stockholm in two weeks to continue talks. Because the U.S. does not have official diplomatic relations with North Korea, Sweden has often acted as a bridge between Washington and Pyongyang.
Kim Myong Gil, the North Korean negotiator, said the North proposed a suspension of talks until December. He said North Korea also made it clear that the two countries can discuss the North’s next denuclearization steps if the United States “sincerely responds” to previous measures taken by Pyongyang, including the suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests and the closing of its underground nuclear testing site.
North Korea has demanded the United States come up with mutually acceptable proposals to salvage the nuclear diplomacy by the end of this year. Kim Myong Gil said whether North Korea will lift its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests is completely up to the United States.
“The fate of the future (North Korea)-U.S. dialogue depends on the U.S. attitude, and the end of this year is its deadline,” the North Korean Foreign Ministry statement said.