Pompeo ‘optimistic’ about ending North Korea’s nuclear program

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Saturday the process of ending North Korea’s nuclear program would take time but he was optimistic that it would be achieved within a timeline set by the leaders of the two countries.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho at the Asean Regional Forum Retreat in Singapore August 4, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su

It was important to maintain diplomatic and economic pressure, Pompeo said on the sidelines of an Asian regional conference, adding the United States took very seriously any relaxation of U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

“I’m optimistic that we will get this done in the timeline and the world will celebrate what the U.N. Security Council has demanded,” Pompeo told a news conference.

“The work has begun. The process of achieving denuclearization of the (Korean) peninsula is one that I think we have all known would take some time.”

He said there was every reason to believe the reports about Russia’s issuance of visas to North Korean workers were accurate, which would be in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

“I want to remind every nation that has supported these resolutions that this is a serious issue and something that we will discuss with Moscow,” he said.

“We expect the Russians and all countries to abide by the U.N. Security Council resolutions and enforce sanctions on North Korea.”

Russia has denied a report by the Wall Street Journal that said Moscow was allowing thousands of fresh North Korean laborers into the country and granting them work permits in a potential breach of U.N sanctions.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Pyongyang Trolley Bus Factory and the Bus Repair Factory in Pyongyang, North Korea in this photo released August 4, 2018 by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency. KCNA/ via REUTERS

Russia’s ambassador to North Korea also denied Moscow was flouting U.N. restrictions on oil supplies to North Korea.

Pompeo flew to Singapore, where the U.S. and North Korean leaders held a landmark summit in June, to attend meetings of the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as China, Russia, Japan and South Korea.

At a group photo session at an ASEAN security forum, Pompeo walked up to North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, who was also attending, and shook hands and exchanged words and smiles.

Pompeo, who has been leading the U.S. negotiations to get the North to abandon its nuclear program, had primarily engaged with Kim Yong Chol, a top North Korean party official and former spy agency chief, and not Ri.

U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim, who has long been a key negotiator on the nuclear issue, said earlier he had no plans to meet the North Koreans in Singapore.

At the summit on June 12, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who is seeking relief from tough sanctions, committed to work toward denuclearization, but Pyongyang has offered no details on how it might go about this.

Pompeo suggested on Friday on the flight to Singapore that continued work on weapons programs by North Korea was inconsistent with its leader’s commitment to denuclearize.

On Monday, a senior U.S. official said U.S. spy satellites had detected renewed activity at the North Korean factory that produced the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.

According to a confidential U.N. report seen by Reuters on Friday, North Korea has not stopped its nuclear and missile programs.

On Saturday, Pompeo was more upbeat about making progress on the denuclearization agreement, saying: “We’ve been working since then to develop the process by which that would be achieved.”

Reporting by Jack Kim and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Nick Macfie

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