NATIONAL

Ball is in Kim Jong-un’s court to resume nuclear talks with Washington: US envoy

By Park Han-na
  • Published : Apr 22, 2019 - 18:23
  • Updated : Apr 22, 2019 - 18:23

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un should decide whether he will seize the opportunity to advance nuclear negotiations with Washington. US Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris said Monday while emphasizing the US’ commitment to “final, fully verified denuclearization.”

Harris said US President Donald Trump took the right course of action by opting for no agreement during his summit with Kim in February as the negotiation was a choice between “no deal” or a “very bad deal,” in a press briefing session held at the US Embassy in Seoul.


 
US Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris speaks during a press briefing session held at the US Embassy in Seoul, Monday. (Yonhap)


“President Trump has held the door open for continued dialogue. And it’s Kim’s decision whether to take him up on that opportunity,” he said.

His remarks came as the North Korean leader gave the US a year-end deadline for another summit meeting, with the “right attitude” on the part of the US, following their unfruitful meeting that fell apart due to disputes over how much sanctions relief North Korea should receive in return for limited nuclear disarmament steps. The US demanded a full dismantling of the North’s entire arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, as well as their production facilities.

“The ball is in Kim’s court ... President Trump gave him a lot. You know the lobbing -- it’s an easy ball to hit back,” the ambassador said.

Harris argued that accepting Pyongyang’s proposal to dismantling nuclear facilities at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center for sanctions relief could have only brought in the immediate benefit of a funding stream to the regime.

“But all of the weapons of mass destruction, all of them, would have remained intact. All of the delivery systems would have remained intact. Almost all of that capacity to produce weapons would have remained intact. That wouldn’t have made South Korea, the United States, Japan, China, Russia, or the whole region safer,” the ambassador said.

Denuclearization talks among the two Koreas and the US have made little headway since February.

Seoul has been stuck between the US that wants to keep pressing the North with US-led international sanctions until its full disarmament and North Korea, which is urging the South to carry out inter-Korean economic projects regardless of the sanctions in place.

To break the deadlock, President Moon Jae-in met with Trump at the White House on April 11, where the US president hinted at his openness to step-by-step approach for Pyongyang to relinquish its weapons, even though he emphasized that his current focus is on “the big deal.”

Asked if the Trump administration is considering an intermediate-level deal before reaching the final goal to disarm North Korea, Harris made it clear that there will be “no sanctions relief, until denuclearization.”

“President Moon agreed with President Trump in Washington that the path for sanctions relief for North Korea relies on complete, final fully verified denulcearization,” he said.

Regarding North Korea’s Foreign Ministry officials’ criticism last week, publicly blaming their counterparts for nuclear talks -- White House national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo -- for the collapse of the US-North Korea summit, Harris said the officials are “probably playing to internal audiences.”

“With regard to peace on the peninsula I will say that other than President Trump and President Moon, nobody wants that more and no one wants affect that more than Mike Pompeo and John Bolton in my opinion,” he said.

By Park Han-na and Joint Press Corps (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)