SINGAPORE - U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says international sanctions on North Korea will only be lifted when Pyongyang takes concrete steps to dismantle its nuclear program.
“We will continue to implement all U.N. Security Council resolutions on North Korea,” Mattis said as he wrapped up a visit to Singapore Sunday. “North Korea will receive relief only when it demonstrates verifiable and irreversible steps to denuclearization.”
Mattis, speaking alongside his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, attempted to dial back expectations for the ongoing talks between the United States and North Korea.
“We can anticipate at best a bumpy road to the negotiations,” Mattis said.
U.S. and North Korean officials continue to lay the groundwork ahead of the expected summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The meeting is set to take place June 12 in Singapore.
On Saturday, Mattis said U.S. troop levels in South Korea will not be on the table at the Trump-Kim summit. Those discussions, if they take place, “will be separate and distinct” from the talks with Pyongyang, Mattis said.
It is not clear what either side is prepared to offer during the negotiations. It’s also not clear how long the talks will last.
Trump initially called for a quick denuclearization process, saying a phased approach has not worked in the past. But after meeting with a senior North Korean leader Friday, Trump seemed to walk back that approach.
“Take your time,” Trump told Kim Yong Chol, a top aide to Kim. “We can go fast, we can go slowly.” Trump also insisted that he “never said it happens in one meeting.”
South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo on Saturday said he was cautiously optimistic.
“Given North Korea’s past, we must be cautious in approaching this. However, some of North Korea’s measures it has taken give us reason to be positive,” he said.
The United States and its allies have repeatedly said they are looking for the “complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement” of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.