North Korea Rules Out Quick Resumption of ‘Sickening’ Talks with U.S.

By Choe Sang-Hun

ImageKim Myong-gil, the North’s chief negotiator, read a statement in Stockholm on Saturday. He said that talks with the United States had collapsed because the American side came “empty-handed.”
Kim Myong-gil, the North’s chief negotiator, read a statement in Stockholm on Saturday. He said that talks with the United States had collapsed because the American side came “empty-handed.”CreditCreditKyodo News, via Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said on Sunday that it had no desire to engage in “sickening negotiations” with the United States anymore, rejecting Washington’s suggestion that negotiators from both countries meet again in Stockholm in two weeks.

In a statement issued a day after bilateral talks broke down in Stockholm on Saturday, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said it would not meet with American negotiators again until after Washington took “a substantial step” to “complete and irreversible withdrawal of hostile policy.”

The ministry suggested that the Trump administration, faced with a slew of domestic political scandals, was more interested in forcing a deal on North Korea and claiming a major diplomatic achievement to help the president’s re-election bid than in satisfying the North’s demands.

“The U.S. has actually not made any preparations for the negotiations but sought to meet its political goal of abusing the D.P.R.K.-U.S. dialogue for its domestic political” interests, said the ministry’s statement, which was carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. D.P.R.K. is the abbreviation of the North’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Shortly after the talks broke down, Morgan Ortagus, a State Department spokeswoman, said the United States had accepted the invitation of the Swedish government for American and North Korean negotiators to return to Stockholm to meet again in two weeks.

On Sunday, North Korea called that idea “ungrounded.”

Negotiators from the United States and North Korea had met to resume denuclearization talks that had stalled since the collapse of the second summit meeting between Mr. Trump and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February. That meeting foundered on disagreements about how fast and how thoroughly the North should dismantle its nuclear program and how soon the United States would ease its sanctions.

Kim Myong-gil, the North’s chief negotiator, told reporters after meeting with his United States counterpart, Stephen E. Biegun, that the talks in Stockholm had collapsed because the American side came “empty-handed,” with no new proposals.

Mr. Trump has claimed that he can achieve what his predecessors, including former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, had tried but failed to achieve: the dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and their production facilities.

He met Kim Jong-un, the North’s leader, in Singapore in June 2018 in the first summit between their nations. But that meeting only produced a vaguely worded agreement in which Mr. Kim promised to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in return for better relations and security guarantees from Washington. Doubt about Mr. Trump’s diplomatic tactics further deepened after the collapse of the Hanoi summit.

During a brief meeting on the border between North and South Korea in late June, Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim agreed to resume staff-level negotiations to try to narrow their differences.

But the talks in Stockholm were doomed by the same problem that had bedeviled all previous negotiations between the two countries: deep differences over what the “complete denuclearization” of the peninsula entailed and what concessions they should offer to each other in the first step toward that goal.

In Hanoi, North Korea offered to dismantle a key nuclear fuel-production center, but only if Washington removed the most biting of the international sanctions, such as the ban on its key exports, like coal and textiles. Mr. Trump insisted on a quick and comprehensive elimination of all the North’s nuclear warheads, as well as their means of delivery and production facilities, before easing any of the international sanctions.

Ms. Ortagus, the State Department spokeswoman, said the American negotiators had traveled to Stockholm with “creative ideas and had good discussions” with their North Korean counterparts. Mr. Kim, the chief North Korean negotiator, said his side had explained a “practical” idea on how to end the stalemate, but he accused his American counterparts of repeating their “old position and attitude.”

Kim Dong-yub, a North Korea expert at the Seoul-based Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said, “The negotiations likely have floundered from the beginning because North Korea and the United States both sought to get too much while offering too little.”

On Sunday, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said progress could be made only when the United States ended its policy that “threatens the security of the country and hampers the rights to existence and development of its people.” Mr. Kim, the North Korean negotiator, cited international sanctions and the United States’ joint military exercises with South Korea as part of such policy.

In a speech in April, Kim Jong-un said he would wait until the end of the year for Washington to come up with a more flexible proposal — a deadline his Foreign Ministry reiterated on Sunday. North Korea has since issued vague warnings that it might end a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, which Mr. Trump cited as one of his biggest gains in his on-off diplomacy with the North.

In recent months, North Korea has conducted a series of missile tests that Mr. Trump dismissed as “small ones” involving short-range ballistic rockets. But on Wednesday, North Korea tested a Pukguksong-3 submarine-launched ballistic missile that South Korean officials consider a medium-range missile.

“It’s completely up to the United States’ stance whether we continue to maintain the moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests,” Mr. Kim, the North Korean negotiator, said on Saturday.

Officials and analysts in South Korea saw the North as resorting to its characteristic brinkmanship to gain leverage over Washington, rather than giving up dialogue completely. The country was seeking to “maximize benefits and minimize concessions,” said Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

It is especially important for North Korea to win sanctions relief before the end of the year because that is the deadline by which countries like China and Russia were required under United Nations sanctions to expel all North Korean workers, said Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea specialist at the Sejong Institute in South Korea. Such overseas workers are a major source of hard currency for the North Korean regime.