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North Korea says US sought more talks, but calls it a ‘trick’

President Trump and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, held their first summit in June last year in Singapore, signing a broadly worded agreement for North Korea to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in return for “new” relations and security guarantees from Washington.
President Trump and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, held their first summit in June last year in Singapore, signing a broadly worded agreement for North Korea to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in return for “new” relations and security guarantees from Washington.Susan Walsh/File/Associated Press

SEOUL — North Korea said Thursday that the United States had proposed resuming talks on denuclearization in December, but warned that Pyongyang was not interested unless Washington was ready to meet its terms. And a top envoy said he believed the proposal was merely “a trick to earn time.”

The North Korean envoy to the talks, Kim Myong Gil, said Thursday that his counterpart in Washington, Stephen E. Biegun, had sent a proposal to the North through a third party. Biegun and Kim led their countries’ delegations to working-level talks in Sweden last month, which ended without an agreement.

In a statement that was carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, Kim expressed strong doubt about Biegun’s sincerity, asking why the US envoy had sent his proposal through an intermediary rather than contacting him directly.

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“If the negotiated solution of issues is possible, we are ready to meet with the US at any place and any time,” Kim said. But he added that North Korea had “no willingness to have such negotiations” if the United States merely planned to stall, as he said Biegun’s team had done in Stockholm.

After those talks collapsed, North Korea said it had no desire to engage in “sickening negotiations” with the United States anymore, swearing that it would never meet with US negotiators again until Washington had taken “a substantial step” toward a “complete and irreversible withdrawal” of its “hostile policy.”

On Thursday, Kim said he intuitively believed that Washington was not ready to give a satisfactory answer to the North’s demand.

“Explicitly speaking once again, I am not interested in such a meeting,” he said.

The North Korean statement did not specify what the US proposal was suspected to be a distraction from. But earlier, the North had accused the United States of using negotiations for “domestic political” purposes, a reference to the Ukraine scandal that is fueling impeachment hearings in Washington.

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President Trump and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, held their first summit in June last year in Singapore, signing a broadly worded agreement for North Korea to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in return for “new” relations and security guarantees from Washington.

But when the two leaders met again in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February, they failed to agree on how to implement the Singapore deal. Kim insisted that his country could denuclearize only in phases. As the first step, he suggested, the United States should lift all major United Nations sanctions​ against his country in return for the dismantling of a key nuclear fuel production complex.

Trump demanded a quick and comprehensive elimination of the North’s nuclear weapons, as well as their means of delivery and production facilities, before easing any international sanctions.

In Stockholm last month, negotiators had tried in vain to narrow the gaps. Washington said at the time that the US negotiators had presented the North Koreans with “creative ideas.”

On Thursday, Kim Myong Gil indicated that the United States had offered incentives such as signing a document declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War, which was halted in a truce, and exchanging liaison offices in each other’s capitals.

But he said such incentives of “secondary importance” fell far short of meeting the North’s demand that the United States lift its “hostile policy,” which he said was “harmful to our rights to existence and development.”

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North Korea has typically cited international sanctions and the United States’ military threats, including its joint exercises with South Korea, as part of such a hostile policy. Washington and Seoul are set to start a joint air force drill later this month.

In a speech in April, Kim Jong Un said he would wait until the end of the year for Washington to come up with a more flexible proposal. In recent months, North Korea has resumed a series of missile and rocket tests, warning that it would find “a new way” if the Trump administration did not meet its demand by then.

In response to the latest North Korean statement, a State Department spokesperson said that Trump remained “committed to making progress toward the Singapore commitments of transformed relations, building lasting peace, and complete denuclearization.”