North Korea and Washington had two different takes on their nuclear talks, with North Korea’s negotiator saying the talks had broken down but Washington maintaining the two sides had “good discussions” in Sweden that it intends to build on in two weeks.
The 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 U.S. has not discarded its old stance and attitude” and came to a negotiating table with an “empty hand.”
Saturday’s talks were the first between the U.S. 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 restart 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 Wednesday.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Kim’s comments did “not reflect the content or the spirit” of the “good discussions” that took place over 8 ½ hours, adding that the U.S. accepted an invitation from Sweden to return to Stockholm in two weeks to continue discussions. Kim, the North Korean negotiator, said North Korea proposed a suspension of talks until December.
The Vietnam summit fell apart because 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 denuclearization steps by North Korea if the United States “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.”
Kim repeated North Korea’s previous statement that the complete denuclearization 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 U.S. military threat. Before entering nuclear disarmament negotiations early last year, North Korea had argued it won’t abandon its nuclear program unless the United States withdraw its 28,500 troops from South Korea, end its military drills with South Korea and take other steps that guarantee North Korea’s security.
In a statement, Ortagus 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.
“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,” 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 northeast of the capital, Swedish news agency TT said. It added that Kim Myong Gil arrived on Thursday while U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun came on Friday.
Because the U.S. does not have official diplomatic relations with North Korea, Sweden has often acted as a bridge between Washington and Pyongyang.