North Korea’s state media called on Monday for the United States to ditch crippling economic sanctions as a reward for Pyongyang’s show of good faith in ending its nuclear weapons testing and transferring the remains of American troops killed in the Korean War.
The calls came just days after a confidential United Nations report concluded that the pariah regime has not stopped its nuclear and missile programmes, and continues to conduct illegal trades of oil, coal and other commodities, reported Reuters.
Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, and Donald Trump, the US President, agreed at a June summit in Singapore to work towards “complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula” but little progress has been made amid differing interpretations on both sides of what the declaration means.
The two countries sparred over the weekend, with Ri Yong-ho, the North’s foreign minister, accusing Washington of dragging its feet over confidence-building measures since the summit and stressing the need for “simultaneous actions and phased steps.”
His criticism was revealed in a transcript of a closed-door meeting of top diplomats at an Asian security meeting, also in Singapore, attended by Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State.
Mr Ri hit out at Washington for “retreating” from ending the 1950-53 Korean War, which concluded with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving US-led United Nations forces, and South Korea, technically still at war with the North.
The North’s state media added fuel to the fire, accusing Washington of “acting opposite” to its plan to improve ties, despite Pyongyang making goodwill gestures.
"There have been outrageous arguments coming out of the US State Department that it won't ease sanctions until a denuclearisation is completed, and reinforcing sanctions is a way to raise its negotiating power," the Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in an editorial.
Senior US officials, including Admiral Harry Harris, the new ambassador to Seoul, have also called for Pyongyang to start giving up its nuclear weapons before any breakthrough on ending the war.
“One of the things that hasn’t happened is the demonstrable moves toward denuclearisation before we can entertain something like the end-of-war declaration,” Mr Harris told reporters last week.
His statement was backed by Mr Pompeo, who suggested at the weekend that the North’s continued work on its weapons programme was inconsistent with Kim’s commitment to denuclearise.
However, US and South Korean officials have also been at pains to show continued conciliatory gestures, and sources told CNN that there is a “strong possibility” of a second summit between Kim Jong-un and President Trump later this year.
Mr Pompeo, meanwhile, stressed that despite the tense exchange over the weekend, Mr Ri had made clear that his country was still willing to denuclearise, in sharp contrast to the “anger” expressed by Pyongyang in recent years.
Kang Kyung-wha, the South Korean foreign minister, also reiterated on Sunday that Seoul remains committed to bringing a formal end to the war by the end of the year, reported Yonhap.
"I think the UN General Assembly (to be held in September) is an important opportunity," she said. "We are having close consultations (with partner countries)."
Ms Kang’s efforts to meet formally with Mr Ri in Singapore were rebutted, however. She said she regretted the missed opportunity but respected his decision.
On Monday, state-controlled North Korean media continued to express Pyongyang’s unhappiness over sanctions, with one outlet, Uriminzokkari, slamming the pressure campaign as “anachronistic” and a hurdle for better relations.
Maeri, another North Korean outlet, stressed the need for U.S. action to build confidence in response to the North’s moves to close its weapons programmes and send back the soldiers' remains.