SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea’s foreign minister quoted U.S. officials as saying that it was North Korea that canceled a meeting this week between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a senior North Korean official on nuclear issues.
North Korea sent a notification to Washington to call off the meeting aimed at discussing the North’s denuclearization and setting up a second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Thursday.
Kang provided no reason on why North Korea canceled the meeting in New York. Kang told lawmakers she planned to discuss the matter with Pompeo over the phone. South Korea’s presidential office earlier said that the meeting’s postponement wouldn’t affect the momentum of talks between Washington and Pyongyang.
“We were notified by the United States that North Korea explained that (the meeting) should be postponed because both sides have busy schedules,” Kang said. “I think it would be excessive to read too much into the postponement of the meeting.”
Trump told reporters at the White House that the United States is “in no rush” and that the meeting between Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart Kim Yong Chol would be rescheduled.
U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said the postponement was “purely a scheduling issue” but refused to elaborate. He did not provide a straightforward answer when asked whether a discord over U.S.-led sanctions against the North, which Pyongyang says must be removed before any progress in nuclear talks, has made it more difficult to set up meetings.
“Timing, timing,” Palladino said. “This has to do with timing as a matter – we’re talking about scheduling. And I’ll leave it at that.”
Seoul has worked hard to revive nuclear diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang, which removed war fears among South Koreans following a provocative run in North Korean weapons tests and Trump’s threats of military action last year.
Kim shifted to diplomacy in 2018, meeting Trump in June between three summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. But the North has been playing hardball since the summits, fueling doubts about whether Kim would ever deal away a nuclear program he may see as his strongest guarantee of survival. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry last week criticized the United States for its continued support of sanctions and hinted it may resume nuclear development if the measures aren’t lifted.
Trump has been showing signs of slowing the pace of his diplomacy with North Korea, seemingly pivoting closer to his party’s mainstream on North Korea issues. Trump recently said he won’t play a “time game” with the North over a denuclearization deal.