US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said there will be no sanctions relief for North Korea while it maintains nuclear weapons, contradicting North Korean state media who said it could take place “as progress is made.”
Pompeo made the statement during a news conference with the South Korean and Japanese foreign ministers in Seoul Thursday, 24 hours after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un touched down in Pyongyang, triumphant after his meeting with US President Donald Trump.
North Korean state media KCNA reported Wednesday that Trump had discussed lifting sanctions against Pyongyang during his talks with Kim in Singapore.
“The President of the US expressed the possibility of suspending the US – South Korea joint military exercises … and, as progress is made from dialogue and negotiations, lifting sanctions against DPRK,” state media said.
But Pompeo said Thursday that Trump had been very clear there would only be sanctions relief after “complete denuclearization.”
“He has said this from the very beginning, he said it again to Chairman Kim and he said it in his press conference following his meeting with Chairman Kim,” he told reporters.
Pompeo is on a tour of East Asia visiting with US allies and diplomatic partners to brief them on Trump’s talks. From South Korea, he’ll fly to China for meetings with top officials in Beijing later Thursday.
Canceling drills requires ‘consultations’: South Korea
The Trump administration is expected to announce as soon as Thursday the formal suspension of planning for major multilateral military drills in August, US officials told CNN.
Trump made the surprise announcement that military drills would be called off during a news conference after his summit with Kim on Tuesday.
However speaking opposite Secretary Pompeo on Thursday, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said decisions to suspend the exercises would “require consultations.”
“This is an issue that involves the Korea-US alliance and this requires consultations between the military authorities of the two countries the Korea and the United States and it will be the case in the future as well,” she told reporters.
It echoed comments made after Trump’s Tuesday announcement, when South Korea’s presidential office said they needed “to figure out president Trump’s accurate meaning and intention.”
Pompeo also met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Thursday, who again described the Trump-Kim summit as “very successful.”
“There are various opinions about the meeting, but the most important thing is that the talks have made it possible for people around the world, including the people of the US, SK and Japan, to escape the threats of war, nuclear threats and the threats of long range missiles,” Moon said in a statement.
Xi pushed Trump to suspend drills, source says
Following his talks with Japan and South Korea, Pompeo will head to Beijing to brief the Chinese government on Trump’s meeting with Kim. He’s due to meet with Foreign Minister Wang Yi before talks with President Xi Jinping at 9 p.m. local time (9 a.m. ET).
A source familiar with the matter told CNN the idea to suspend military exercises with South Korea had been heavily pushed by President Xi in the lead up to the Singapore summit.
The source added Xi had multiple direct conversations with Trump about the topic before the US President met with Kim.
Experts said the decision to postpone the drills was a win for Beijing, who have long sought a way to drive a wedge between the US and its East Asian allies.
Currently there are around 28,000 American troops in South Korea, as well as another 49,000 in Japan.
“If they end these exercises then people in South Korea will begin to question why are US troops even there?” Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at CSIS, told CNN.
But both the Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers were firm in their statements on Thursday that the US alliance was strong and US troops were there to stay.
“Secretary Pompeo and I reaffirm that the South Korean US alliance … is robust as ever, that the US forces in Korea has played and will continue to play a crucial role for deterrence and peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” Kang said.