US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the US special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, had “a good discussion” on Friday with North Korean envoy Kim Yong Chol on efforts to make progress on commitments made by President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a summit last June, the State Department said.
The State Department issued the statement after US officials held a meeting with Kim Yong Chol in Washington aimed at clearing the way for a second summit between Trump and the North Korean leader.
The North Korean envoy was also expected to meet Trump at the White House to discuss relations between the two countries and continued progress on what White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said was “North Korea’s final, fully verified denuclearisation”.
Friday’s meetings came a day after Trump unveiled a revamped US missile defence strategy that singled out Pyongyang as an ongoing and “extraordinary threat” – seven months after the US president declared after his first summit with Kim Jong Un that the North Korean threat had been eliminated.
Trump has spoken several times about having a second summit with Kim early this year and has exchanged multiple letters with the North Korean leader despite little tangible progress on a vague denuclearisation agreement reached at their meeting in Singapore last June.
Since then, several private analysts have published reports detailing continuing North Korean development of nuclear and missile technology.
The little obvious progress was underlined by the new US Missile Defense Review that was unveiled on Thursday.
Introducing the report, Patrick Shanahan, the acting defence secretary, noted that North Korean missiles remained a “significant concern”. Trump himself only mentioned North Korea in passing at the same event, saying negotiations he had conducted should have been done years ago.
Friday’s meeting came months after planned talks between the two in November were called off at the last minute.
Contact between the two sides was resumed after a New Year’s speech by North Korea’s leader, in which he said he was willing to meet Trump “at any time”, Cho Yoon-je, the South Korean ambassador to the US, told reporters last week.
Talks had stalled over North Korea’s refusal to provide a detailed accounting of its nuclear and missile facilities that would be used by inspectors to verify any deal to dismantle them. North Korea has been demanding that the US lift harsh sanctions and provide it with security guarantees before it takes any steps beyond its initial suspension of nuclear and missile tests.
At a conference of US diplomats at the State Department on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence acknowledged the lack of progress.
He called the Trump-Kim dialogue “promising” but stressed that “we still await concrete steps by North Korea to dismantle the nuclear weapons that threaten our people and our allies in the region.”
Last week, South Korean President Moon Jae-In urged Pyongyang to take “bold, practical measures for denuclearisation” to ensure sanctions are lifted but stressed that “corresponding measures” were also needed from Washington, such as agreeing a “peace regime” and formally declaring an end to the 1950-1953 Korean War.
His comments came as Kim Jong Un visited China – North Korea’s key ally – for talks with President Xi Jinping.