US nuclear talks with North Korea break down

Nuclear negotiations between the US and North Korea broke down in Sweden on Saturday, with both sides delivering conflicting verdicts on the long-awaited resumption of talks.

Pyongyang’s chief negotiator accused the Trump administration of coming to the meeting “empty-handed,” while the US claimed they had had “good discussions.”

Kim Myong Gil, the top North Korean nuclear envoy, blamed US inflexibility for the failed talks soon after eight and a half hours of negotiations ended late Saturday, saying the US would not “give up their old viewpoint and attitude.” 

“The negotiation did not live up to our expectations and broke off. I am very displeased,” said Mr Kim outside the North Korean embassy in Stockholm. “They have disappointed us greatly and dampened our enthusiasm for negotiation by bringing nothing to the negotiating table.” 

However, the US state department said Mr Kim’s comments did not reflect “the content or spirit” of the Stockholm talks, which followed eight months of stalemate. 

“The US brought creative ideas and had good discussions with its DPRK counterparts,” spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement, adding that the US delegation previewed “a number of new initiatives” and accepted a Swedish invitation to continue the talks in two weeks. 

“The US 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,” she said, but did not mention whether North Korea also accepted the Swedish invitation for new talks. 

Mr Kim said it “depends on the US position” on whether North Korea will continue to refrain from testing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. North Korea has fired a series of short-range ballistic missiles since May. On Wednesday it launched what it claimed was a new type of submarine-launched ballistic missile. 

Members of the North Korean delegation arrive to Arlanda airport north of Stockholm on October 3, 2019. - Working-level nuclear negotiations are expected to resume between the US and North Korea. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP) (Photo by JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images)

Members of the North Korean delegation arrive to Arlanda airport north of Stockholm on October 3 © AFP via Getty Images

However, Mr Kim said a complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula was still possible “when all the obstacles that threaten our safety and check our development are removed completely without a shadow of doubt.” 

North Korea has called for security guarantees and sanctions relief as rewards for giving up its nuclear weapons since it began denuclearisation talks with the US last year. But little progress has been made in denuclearisation despite personal diplomacy between Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who held a high-profile meeting at the demilitarised zone in June. 

Experts believe North Korea has continued to produce nuclear fissile material and improved its missile capability despite its diplomatic outreach.

They expect working-level talks to resume despite North Korea’s strong protests against the outcome of Saturday’s talks. 

“The Americans came to the meeting with new ideas about what benefits to offer and how to sequence them with North Korea in exchange for concrete steps toward denuclearisation. But Pyongyang’s common negotiating tactic is to demand unearned concessions based on what it says it has done already, and then threaten to walk away,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. 

“The North Koreans will likely take more time and engage in posturing, but what they are actually doing is returning to their capital, considering US proposals, and waiting to receive direction from their leadership,” he added.

Shin Beom-chul, a researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, a think-tank in Seoul, expected North Korea to return to nuclear talks in November.

“North Korea is trying to take time to extract more concessions from the US by piling more pressure on Washington,” he said. “The US must have asked for wider denuclearisation measures from North Korea before lifting sanctions, which Pyongyang is unwilling to accept.”

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