US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at Haneda Airport in Tokyo. Photo: AFP / Andrew Harnik

The outcome of the latest US-North Korean talks on denuclearization was clearly a matter of perspective. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo thought the two-day discussions were “very productive” while a North Korean spokesperson has labeled them “regrettable.”

Yet the US Secretary of State offered few new details as to how Kim Jong-un’s regime would honor its commitment to “denuclearize” in exchange for security guarantees from the United States after briefing the media before flying on to Tokyo.

“These are complicated issues, but we made progress on almost all of the central issues, some places a great deal of progress, other places there’s still more work to be done,” he said.

The North’s statement, which came hours after Pompeo wrapped up the Pyongyang talks, accused the US of trying to pressure North Korea into giving up its nuclear weapons.

“The attitude and demands from the US side during the high-level talks were nothing short of deeply regrettable,” a spokesperson for the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Pompeo spoke after emerging from more than eight hours of talks over two days with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s right-hand man, Kim Yong-choi, in a Pyongyang diplomatic compound.

Last month, at a historic summit with US President Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un agreed to “work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in return for security guarantees and an end to a dangerous stand-off with US forces.

Trump hailed this as a successful resolution of the crisis but the short joint statement lacked details on disarmament. Pompeo traveled to Pyongyang to put meat on the bones of the sparse commitment.
Arriving on Friday for his third visit and first overnight stay, he left en route to brief his Japanese and South Korean counterparts in an upbeat frame of mind on Saturday.

In practical terms, Pompeo said only that both sides would meet on July 12 as a working group to discuss the repatriation of the remains of some US soldiers killed during the 1950-1953 Korean War

“We talked about what the North Koreans are continuing to do and how it’s the case that we can get our arms around achieving what Chairman Kim and President Trump both agreed to, which is the complete denuclearization of North Korea,” he said.

“I know my counterpart [Kim Yong-choi] spoke with Chairman Kim during the course of our negotiations as well. We had productive, good-faith negotiations,” he added.

In practical terms, Pompeo said only that officials from both sides would meet on July 12 as a working group to discuss the repatriation of the remains of some US soldiers killed during the 1950-1953 Korean War.

And he said progress had been made towards agreeing “the modalities” of North Korea’s destruction of a missile facility.

The talks were held at a villa in an official compound close to the imposing mausoleum where North Korea’s former helmsmen Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il – the current leader’s grandfather and father – lie in state.

In comparison to past international nuclear disarmament negotiations, the discussions between Washington and Pyongyang on thawing ties and dismantling the North’s arsenal appear to be proceeding in reverse.
Rather than the two leaders crowning years of detailed negotiation with their one-on-one meeting, the short statement marked instead the start of a diplomatic long slog.

In fact, Trump earned the scorn of seasoned Korea watchers and non-proliferation experts when he declared the crisis over.

The task of establishing the disarmament program now falls to Pompeo, who is seeking a formal declaration by the North of the size of its nuclear program, as well as an eventual timetable for it to be ended under international verification and inspection.

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