A top State Department official insisted Friday that North Korea would have to blink first if it wanted to make a deal on denuclearization with the United States.
Negotiators from the U.S. and North and South Korea have engaged in on-again, off-again talks on denuclearization since a June summit in Singapore between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump.
But despite some high hopes, efforts have been stymied by a lack of specifics from North Korea as well as Pyongyang’s demands for security assurances and other concessions in advance of dismantling its nuclear arsenal.
“We’re not going to give anything until North Korea does what it says," Andrea Thompson, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told reporters in Washington.
Officials in Pyongyang must first make good on “their obligations that they committed to in Singapore,” she said, referring to their pledge to denuclearize.
“What we want to offer is a future of a denuclearized peninsula. What we want to offer is the economic livelihood of a North Korea that can interact with the global neighbors,” she added, cautioning, “It depends on if North Korea’s forthcoming to do what they say they’re going to do.”
Thompson’s comments were just the latest on what has been a diplomatic roller coaster, with hopes rising and falling as talks involving Pyongyang, Washington and Seoul make progress, only to hit additional stumbling blocks.
The latest hopes for success came Thursday, when North Korea's Kim told South Korean officials his faith in Trump was “unchanged” and suggested he would be willing to denuclearize by the end of Trump's first term in office.
On Friday, en route to a rally in North Dakota, Trump expressed further optimism.
“A letter is being delivered to me, a personal letter from Kim Jong Un,” the president told reporters on Air Force One. “I think it’s going to be a positive letter.”
Yet many U.S. officials remain skeptical, noting it was just last month that Trump abruptly canceled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s plans to meet with Kim in Pyongyang because of a lack of progress.
Pompeo himself admitted during a visit to India on Thursday that “there is still an enormous amount of work to do.”
“We haven’t had any nuclear tests, we haven’t had any missile tests, which we consider a good thing,” he said. “But the work of convincing Chairman Kim to make the strategic shift that we’ve talked about for a brighter future for the people of North Korea continues.”
U.S. intelligence officials are even more wary about Pyongyang’s repeated commitments to denuclearize.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told a conference in Washington on Tuesday that the U.S. intelligence assessment of North Korea’s nuclear intentions had not changed.
“Kim Jong Un sees nuclear weapons as key to the regime’s survival and as leverage to achieve his long-term strategic ambitions,” he said.
Coats also said that despite some symbolic steps by Pyongyang in early June to destroy the entrances to some nuclear testing tunnels and to start dismantling some other equipment, there had been no signs of additional movement.
Asked Friday what had led U.S. diplomatic officials to believe North Korea’s Kim would eventually go through with denuclearization, Thompson replied, “He said he was going to do it.”
“He said it to the secretary. And he said it to the president, so we’ll hold him to his word,” Thompson added.