Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo sought to downplay a North Korean warning Friday that Kim Jong Un was considering breaking off nuclear talks with the Trump administration and resuming the country’s nuclear and missile tests.
Pompeo said that during last month’s nuclear summit in Hanoi, Kim "on multiple occasions" had assured President Trump he would not lift a self-imposed moratorium on the tests.
"So that's Chairman Kim’s word," Pompeo said at the State Department. “We have every expectation that he will live up to that commitment.”
The Hanoi summit collapsed without an agreement and both leaders left empty-handed, leaving the two sides at an impasse despite the high-level engagement.
Pompeo spoke several hours after North Korea’s deputy foreign minister, Choe Son Hui, told foreign journalists and diplomats in Pyongyang that Kim would decide “in a short period of time” whether to resume tests.
North Korea has not launched a ballistic missile or detonated a nuclear device since 2017, and Trump has cited the pause as one of the main achievements of his rapprochement with Kim.
Choe, who accompanied Kim to the Hanoi summit, said that the Trump administration had thrown away a "golden opportunity" and that without concessions from Washington, North Korea may pull out of talks.
"We have neither the intention to compromise with the U.S. in any form nor much less the desire or plan to conduct this kind of negotiation,” Choe said, according to the Associated Press.
Choe criticized Pompeo and Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton, by name, saying they had created “an atmosphere of hostility and mistrust” that undermined cooperation.
She avoided blaming Trump, saying relations between the two leaders were “still good and the chemistry is mysteriously wonderful.”
Pompeo and Bolton are known to be deeply skeptical of Kim’s intentions, and were among the senior Trump aides who worried the president might offer deep concessions in Hanoi to strike a deal.
Asked whether the personal attack would hurt his efforts to negotiate, Pompeo noted that North Korean state media had called him “gangster-like” after a visit to the capital, Pyongyang, in July. Choe repeated the barb Friday, describing the U.S. stance in Hanoi as “gangster-like.”
Pompeo denied that he and Bolton have created an atmosphere of mistrust. Communications with Kim Yong Chol, North Korea’s lead negotiator, remained “professional” with “detailed conversations,” Pompeo said.
Choe’s news conference appeared the latest effort by Kim’s government to counter the U.S. account of why the Feb. 27-28 summit collapsed — that North Korea’s demands for sanctions relief, in exchange for giving up only a small part of its nuclear program, were unreasonable.
The night after the Hanoi talks fell apart, Choe's boss, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, called a news conference to say North Korea asked only that sanctions hampering civilian life be removed.
Since then, U.S. officials have appeared to harden their public stance, asserting North Korea must give up its entire nuclear arsenal and ballistic missile program. Bolton told ABC News that the country must also surrender its chemical and biological weapons as part of “denuclearization.”
Stephen Biegun, U.S. special representative for North Korea, said in Washington this week that the administration was "not going to do denuclearization incrementally."
Independent experts have said a multiyear, step-by-step process, involving intense inspections and monitoring, would be required to safely remove North Korea’s vast nuclear infrastructure and weapons in exchange for a steady lifting of sanctions.
Before the summit, Biegun had appeared to support that view, saying that U.S. and North Korean concessions could take place “simultaneously and in parallel.”