- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2019

North Korea slammed the U.S. for extending sanctions against Pyongyang and sharply criticized Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday, even as South Korea’s president claimed “behind-the-scenes” talks are underway to arrange a third summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un.

In a statement circulated by North Korean state media, the Kim regime chastised the Trump administration for engaging, increasingly, in a “wild dream” of trying to “bring us to our knees by means of sanctions and pressure.”

The statement quoting an unnamed spokesperson for the North Korean Foreign Ministry targeted Mr. Pompeo specifically, accusing him of making “reckless remarks” at a recent press conference by claiming that increased sanctions will effectively pressure Pyongyang back to the negotiating table.

High states nuclear talks have been stalled since late-February, when a second summit between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim was cut short because the two failed to agree to a far-reaching deal to end the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

Mr. Trump said at the time that he had to walk away because Mr. Kim was demanding sweeping sanctions relief in exchange for only a limited commitment to destroy part of the North’s nuclear arsenal, a characterization Pyongyang has challenged.

Administration officials, including Mr. Pompeo, have asserted more recently that talks are not stalled, suggesting back-channel communications could lead to another major summit.

While here have been no public meetings since Hanoi, White House officials say Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim have exchanged personal letters. The Associated Press noted Wednesday that Mr. Trump recently called a letter from Mr. Kim’s “beautiful,” while Mr. Kim described Mr. Trump’s as “excellent,” though the contents of their letters have not been disclosed.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry comments about Mr. Pompeo on Wednesday, meanwhile, came hours before South Korean President Moon Jae-in claimed North Korean and U.S. officials are holding “behind-the-scenes talks.”

In a response to questions by The Associated Press and six other news agencies, Mr. Moon said that Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Kim’s “willingness to engage in dialogue has never faded” and that their recent letter exchanges prove that.

U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun is on a visit to South Korea this week and there are reports he may be meeting North Korean officials at a village along the heavily fortified border dividing the Korean peninsula.

It remains to be seen how the North Korean Foreign Ministry comments on Wednesday might impact such a meeting.

Other factors are also at play, including a delicate face-to-face Mr. Trump is slated to have on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Japan later this week with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Mr. Xi, who met with Mr. Kim during a historic visit to Pyongyang last week, may come bearing a message from the North Korean leader for Mr. Trump.

Analysts are wary, however, that coordination on North Korea between Mr. Xi and Mr. Trump could be undermined by U.S.-China trade friction, which is likely to dominate the Trump-Xi meeting.

As for North Korea’s state media report on Wednesday, David Maxwell, a retired U.S. Army Special Forces colonel and a North Korea expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank in Washington, said he was not surprised that the Kim regime was slamming Mr. Pompeo at a moment of possible momentum toward renewed negotiations.

Kim is trying to isolate Trump from his advisors,” Mr. Maxwell said in comments circulated to reporters on Wednesday. “This also is Kim talking tough to placate his military and elite while trying to influence Trump to continue is unconventional, experimental, top-down diplomacy.”

The North’s official propaganda arm, the Korean Central News Agency, separately quoted a ministry spokesman as slamming recent State Department criticisms of North Korea in reports on international human trafficking and religious freedoms.

The ministry spokesman slandered the reports as being “based on all kinds of falsehoods and fabrications.”


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