Tough sanctions against North Korea will remain in place until its complete denuclearisation, the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has said, apparently contradicting North Korea’s view that the process agreed at this week’s summit would be phased and reciprocal.
The US president, Donald Trump, and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, issued a joint statement after their Singapore meeting reaffirming the North’s commitment to “work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”, while Trump “committed to provide security guarantees”.
Trump later told a news conference he would end joint US-South Korean military exercises.
“President Trump has been incredibly clear about the sequencing of denuclearisation and relief from the sanctions,” Pompeo told reporters after meeting South Korea’s president and Japan’s foreign minister in Seoul.
“We are going to get complete denuclearisation; only then will there be relief from the sanctions,” he said.
North Korean state media reported on Wednesday that Kim and Trump had recognised the principle of “step-by-step and simultaneous action” to achieve peace and denuclearisation.
The summit statement provided no details on when North Korea would give up its nuclear weapons programme or how the dismantling might be verified.
Sceptics of how much the meeting achieved pointed to the North Korean leadership’s long-held view that nuclear weapons are a bulwark against what it fears are US plans to overthrow it and unite the Korean peninsula.
However, the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, said the world, through the summit, had escaped the threat of war, echoing Trump’s upbeat assessment of his meeting with Kim.
“What’s most important was that the people of the world, including those in the United States, Japan and Koreans, have all been able to escape the threat of war, nuclear weapons and missiles,” Moon told Pompeo.
Pompeo insisted North Korea was committed to giving up its nuclear arsenal but said it would “be a process, not an easy one”.
Kim understood getting rid of his nuclear arsenal needed to be done quickly and there would only be relief from stringent UN sanctions after its “complete denuclearisation”, Pompeo said.
Moon later said South Korea would be flexible when it came to military pressure on North Korea if it was sincere about denuclearisation.
Also on Thursday, North and South Korea held their first military talks in more than a decade. The talks followed on from an inter-Korean summit in April at which Moon and Kim agreed to defuse tension and cease “hostile acts”.
Speaking later in the day in Beijing, Pompeo said China, Japan and South Korea all acknowledged a corner had been turned on the Korean peninsula issue, but that all three had also acknowledged sanctions remained in place.
“China has reaffirmed its commitment to honouring the UN security council resolutions. Those have mechanisms for relief contained in them, and we agreed that at the appropriate time that those would be considered,” Pompeo said, standing next to the Chinese government’s top diplomat, the state councillor, Wang Yi.
“But we have made very clear that the sanctions and the economic relief that North Korea will receive will only happen after the full denuclearisation, the complete denuclearisation of North Korea.”
Wang said China had consistently supported the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula but that it was impossible to solve the issue overnight.
“At the same time, we believe North Korea’s reasonable security concerns should be resolved.”
Japan has reacted to Trump’s plan to cancel military exercises with South Korea with concern, saying the drills were vital for east Asian security.
Tokyo is working on arranging a meeting between the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and Kim, with one possibility being an Abe visit to Pyongyang around August, the Yomiuri newspaper reported.
The US intelligence assessment of the nuclear and other military threats posed by North Korea remained unchanged despite Trump’s and Moon’s assertions about the North Korean nuclear threat being over, a senior US official responsible for studying the North Korean military said.
US officials said it was unclear what types of training involving US and South Korean troops might cross into Trump’s now forbidden zone of “war games”.
“Make no mistake, we are going to maintain the readiness of our forces in South Korea,” said one US official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official acknowledged, however, it was still not certain how that was going to happen.
The US maintains about 28,500 soldiers in South Korea, which remains in a technical state of war with the North after the 1950-53 Korean war ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.
Meanwhile the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, asked North Korean official Kim Yong-Nam at their meeting on Thursday to pass an invitation to Kim Jong-un to visit Russia in September.