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NK yet to respond to US request for meeting

A war of nerves between Washington and Pyongyang over efforts to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons appears to be escalating, with North Korea yet to respond to a US proposal for high-level talks and the US delaying a second summit with the North.

High-level talks as well as working-level talks between the US and North Korea to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula have yet to be held, and the two sides have yet to confirm a date or venue for such talks, a senior South Korean official said Wednesday.

“North Korea and the US continue to have consultations about a high-level meeting, but the date and venue have not been decided as far as I know,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity. “North Korea has not given a specific response (to the US request for a meeting).”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he hopes to meet with his North Korean counterpart “in the next week and a half or so” to continue discussions on a potential second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The high-level meeting between North Korea and the US could take place anytime when North Korea decides to hold it because the US is “ready” for negotiations, the official said.

Working-level negotiations led by North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui and US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun are also yet to begin, with no announcement on a date or location.

With seemingly slow progress, the US-North Korea summit is expected to be held early next year, the official said. 

Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton said in an interview with a Russian media outlet that a meeting is likely sometime “after the first of the year.” Trump also has said that he is in “no rush” to reach an agreement with the North.

Expectations for progress on denuclearization talks had been high following Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang earlier this month. An imminent second summit between the countries was also speculated.

The US and North Korea, however, appear to be more cautious ahead of the second summit, looking to exact more specific concessions from each other.

North Korea demands the US agree declare an end to the Korean War and ease sanctions against it, while the US wants the North to take more concrete denuclearization steps -- such as presenting an inventory for the North’s nuclear material and facilities -- amid growing skepticism in Washington concerning the North’s willingness to denuclearize.

The first US-North Korea summit in Singapore in June produced a statement committing the North to work toward the “complete” denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for security guarantees from the US, which critics say is a vague commitment lacking specifics.

“It’s to be expected that North Korea is very careful with each step it takes,” the official said. “It’s a game where everything is at stake -- the abandonment of all the nuclear weapons and facilities the North has developed thus far -- so the North Koreans will be thoroughly prepared before a meeting.”

Despite the second US-North Korea summit likely to be held next year, the official did not rule out the possibility of the end-of-war declaration among the Koreas and the US, as well as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s visit to Seoul for another summit within the year.

“(Declaring an end to the war within this year) would depend on how working-level talks go and how they draw out in-depth agreements,” he said. “If there were progress in the process of preparing for US-North Korea summit in January, conditions could be created for the leaders of South Korea and North Korea to meet in Seoul.”


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