Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on a visit to China on Thursday that both nations are committed to keeping economic sanctions in place until North Korea fully denuclearizes, knocking down claims by the rogue nation’s state media in the aftermath of Tuesday’s summit in Singapore.
“We have made very clear that the sanctions and the economic relief that North Korea will receive will only happen after the full denuclearization, the complete denuclearization of North Korea,” Mr. Pompeo said at a joint press conference in Beijing with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
The stance bucked a North Korea state media report Wednesday that the deal struck by President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would follow a “step-by-step and simultaneous action” of denuclearization and sanctions relief. Chinese officials have also hinted the deal reached in Singapore clears the way for easing the economic pressure on Mr. Kim’s regime.
It was the first dispute over the joint declaration Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim signed Tuesday at the Singapore summit.
Mr. Pompeo was looking for China’s support on ending North Korea’s nuclear threat even as Washington and Beijing continue to spar bitterly over trade.
Mr. Trump is due to announce his decision Friday whether to impose tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods. China has threatened to retaliate and fears abound that the world’s two largest economies are on the verge of a trade war, and Mr. Wang said the globe’s two biggest economies face a stark choice.
“The first choice is cooperation and mutual benefit. The other choice is confrontation and mutual loss. China chooses the first,” he said. “We hope the U.S. side can also make the same wise choice. Of course, we have also made preparations to respond to the second kind of choice.”
Officials from both countries appeared determined to keep North Korea and trade issues on separate diplomatic tracks.
The ability to maintain crippling sanctions on North Korea has been a concern. In previous deals to halt its nuclear program, North Korea reneged after winning concessions such as sanctions relief or economic aid.
Mr. Trump stressed the need for continued sanctions even before the ink was dry on the joint declaration.
“To realize their amazing destiny and reunite their national family, the menace of nuclear weapons will now be removed. In the meantime, the sanctions will remain in effect,” he said at a post-summit press conference at the summit site at a hotel on Sentosa, a resort island off the Singapore coast.
The president said he looked forward to removing sanction but only “when we are sure that the nukes are no longer a factor.”
Despite conflicting interpretations of the agreement, Mr. Pompeo said he would be pushing the deal forward.
The next critical step would be Pyongyang’s full accounting of its nuclear arsenal and the locations of nuclear weapons facilities, he said.
“As part of the efforts that will be undertaken in the week and weeks ahead, we will work with the North Koreans to come to have a fuller understanding of that so that we can begin to execute together the commitments that President Trump and Chairman Kim made,” said Mr. Pompeo.
Beijing floated the idea that sanctions could begin to be loosened immediately following the agreement reached at the summit Tuesday between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim.
Mr. Trump also voiced concern while at the summit that China, the chief sponsor of Mr. Kim’s communist regime, already eased security on its border with North Korea. China’s enforcement of the United Nation’s sanctions was instrumental in forcing North Korea to the negotiating table.
At the press conference, Mr. Pompeo thanked Chinese President Xi Jinping for his role.
Earlier, Mr. Pompeo briefed South Korea’s president and Japan’s foreign minister in Seoul.
“This is my third country that I’ve had the chance to speak with today. Each has reinforced three important things that happened in Singapore,” said Mr. Pompeo.
In Washington, Mr. Trump’s pick to fill the long-vacant ambassador’s post in Seoul said the president’s personal diplomacy with Mr. Kim has put the U.S. in a “dramatically different place,” but stopped short of endorsing Mr. Trump’s assertion via Twitter that Pyongyang is no longer a nuclear threat.
“I think we must continue to worry about the nuclear threat,” retired Adm. Harry Harris Jr., the retired head of the U.S. Pacific Command, told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing, in response to a question from New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, the panel’s ranking Democrat.
But Mr. Harris said the summit had had a clear and immediate impact on the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. He backed Mr. Trump’s call for a suspension of U.S.-South Korean military exercises so long as the negotiations with the North are proceeding in good faith.
“I think we are in a dramatically different place. I think the whole landscape has shifted and I believe that we should give exercises, major exercises, a pause, to see if Kim Jong-un in fact is serious,” he told lawmakers.
• Natalie Malek contributed to this article.