Mike Pompeo. Picture: REUTERS
Mike Pompeo. Picture: REUTERS

Seoul/Beijing — Tough sanctions will remain on North Korea until its complete denuclearisation, says US secretary of state Mike Pompeo.

This seemingly contradicts North Korea’s view that the process agreed to at this week’s historic summit would be phased and reciprocal.

US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un issued a joint statement after their meeting in Singapore on Tuesday that reaffirmed the North’s commitment to “work towards complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”, while Trump “committed to provide security guarantees”.

“President Trump has been incredibly clear about the sequencing of denuclearisation and relief from the sanctions,” Pompeo told reporters on Thursday after meeting South Korea’s president and Japan’s foreign minister in Seoul.

“We are going to get complete denuclearisation; only then will there be relief from the sanctions,” he said.

North Korean state media reported on Wednesday Kim and Trump had recognised the principle of “step-by-step and simultaneous action” to achieve peace and denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.

Sceptics of how much the meeting achieved pointed to the North Korean leadership’s long-held view that nuclear weapons are a bulwark against what it fears are US plans to overthrow it and unite the Korean peninsula.

However, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the world, through the summit, had escaped the threat of war, echoing Trump’s upbeat assessment of his meeting with Kim.

“What’s most important was that the people of the world, including those in the US, Japan and Koreans, have all been able to escape the threat of war, nuclear weapons and missiles,” Moon told Pompeo.

Pompeo insisted North Korea was committed to giving up its nuclear arsenal but said it would “be a process, not an easy one”.

Kim understood getting rid of his nuclear arsenal needed to be done quickly and there would be relief from stringent UN sanctions on North Korea only  after its “complete denuclearisation”, Pompeo said.

Moon later said South Korea would be flexible when it comes to military pressure on North Korea if it is sincere about denuclearisation.

Also on Thursday, North and South Korea held their first military talks in more than a decade. The talks followed on from an inter-Korean summit in April at which Moon and Kim agreed to defuse tension and cease “hostile acts”.

Speaking later in the day in Beijing, Pompeo said China, Japan and South Korea all acknowledged a corner had been turned on the Korean peninsula issue, but that all three had also acknowledged sanctions remain in place until denuclearisation is complete.

“China has reaffirmed its commitment to honouring the UN Security Council resolutions. Those have mechanisms for relief contained in them, and we agreed that at the appropriate time that those would be considered,” Pompeo said, standing next to the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi.

“But we have made very clear that the sanctions and the economic relief that North Korea will receive will only happen after the full denuclearisation, the complete denuclearisation of North Korea.”

Wang said China had consistently supported the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula but that it was impossible to solve the issue overnight.

“At the same time, we believe North Koreas’s reasonable security concerns should be resolved.”

The US has long insisted on complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation by North Korea.

“Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office,” Trump tweeted. “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”

Democratic critics in the US said the agreement was short on detail and the Republican president had made too many concessions to Kim.

Pompeo said Trump’s comments about the reduced threat from North Korea were made “with eyes wide open”.

“It could be the case that our effort won’t ... work but we are determined to set the conditions so that we can right this failure of decades and reset the conditions for North Korea’s participation in the community of nations,” Pompeo said after a trilateral meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono.

Maintain readiness

Japan has reacted to Trump’s plan to cancel military exercises with South Korea with concern, saying the drills are vital for East Asian security.

Two North Korean missiles flew over Japan last year as North Korea made rapid advances in developing a missile capable of striking the US mainland with a nuclear warhead.

Tokyo is working on arranging a meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Kim, with one possibility being an Abe visit to Pyongyang around August, the Yomiuri newspaper reported.

A Japanese government source familiar with the matter told Reuters officials aimed to discuss a summit with North Korean officials at a regional security conference in Mongolia on Thursday and Friday.