US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he wants to restart nuclear talks with North Korea at the “earliest opportunity” in the wake of new agreements reached between the two Koreas at a summit in Pyongyang.
The move comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged at the historic summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to dismantle its key missile facilities and suggested it would close its main Yongbyon nuclear complex if Washington took unspecified actions.
Pompeo welcomed Wednesday’s agreement between the two Koreas to denuclearise the peninsula.
“This will mark the beginning of negotiations to transform US-DPRK relations through the process of rapid denuclearisation of North Korea, to be completed by January 2021, as committed by Chairman Kim, and to construct a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” Pompeo said in a statement, using the initials of the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The US secretary of state said on Wednesday he had invited North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho to meet in New York City next week on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to discuss the aim of completing North Korea’s denuclearisation by January 2021.
Pompeo also said Washington invited Pyongyang’s representatives to meet the US special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, in Vienna.
The January 2021 completion date was the most specific deadline set so far in what is expected to be a long process of trying to get the North to end its nuclear programme, which may threaten US allies South Korea and Japan as well as the US mainland.
The sudden revival of diplomacy comes amid doubts expressed by US President Donald Trump’s administration on North Korea’s willingness to negotiate in good faith after a June summit between Trump and Kim yielded few tangible results.
Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Washington, DC, said: “The Trump administration believes that this is an opportunity to try to move ahead and try to improve the relations with the country which it says was not too far off from being at war with the United States.”
She also said it was not clear whether the expected talks in Vienna would be held under the auspices of the United Nations, which typically is involved in similar denuclearisation efforts.
“There is also the question of whether UN Security Council resolutions will have to be reversed in order for closer diplomatic and economic ties to take place between the two countries,” she said.
China, North Korea’s closest ally, said it warmly welcomed the agreement reached in Pyongyang and strongly supported it.
“We absolutely cannot let this hard to come by opportunity for peace slip away once again,” the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said in a statement.
Some US officials were deeply sceptical. Speaking before Pompeo’s announcement, two senior US officials involved in US-North Korea policy voiced fears Kim was trying to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul.
At the summit, the two Koreas agreed on plans to resume economic cooperation, including working to reconnect rail and road links. They agreed as well to restart a joint factory park in the border city of Kaesong and tours to North Korea’s Mount Kumgang resort when conditions are met.
US officials suggested Kim was trying to ease the economic pressure on him to curb his nuclear programmes and to undercut the rationale for US troops being based in South Korea by improving relations with Seoul.
Washington has about 28,500 US troops in South Koreato deter a North Korean attack. Pyongyang has long sought their withdrawal and Trump has questioned their rationale and cost.