TOKYO -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's planned meeting with his North Korean counterpart in New York has been called off at the last minute, the State Department announced Wednesday, without giving any explanation or new date.
South Korea's government warned against reading too much into the postponement. Nevertheless, there have been signs of a growing rift between Washington and Pyongyang over the denuclearization process.
The meeting was scheduled to take place today, but State Department spokesman Heather Nauert said it would now take place "at a later date."
"We will reconvene when our schedules permit," she added in a statement. "Ongoing conversations continue to take place. The United States remains focused on fulfilling the commitments agreed to by President [Donald] Trump and Chairman Kim [Jong Un] at the Singapore summit in June."
South Korea's national broadcaster KBS reported that the North Korean negotiating team, led by Kim Yong Chol, was supposed to get on a Wednesday flight from Beijing to New York.
But KBS said it was unclear if the team had even arrived in Beijing.
This morning, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said North Korea sent a notification to Washington to call off the meeting.
Kang provided no reason on why North Korea canceled the meeting. Kang told lawmakers that she planned to discuss the matter with Pompeo over the phone.
"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. "Secretary of State Pompeo has already said that the meeting will be rescheduled. I think it would be excessive to read too much into the postponement of the meeting."
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 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.
Trump played down concern over the postponement and said he expects to meet leader Kim Jong Un early next year.
Trump suggested at a news conference Wednesday that a meeting between Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart would be rescheduled because of a conflict that he didn't explain. He said he wasn't worried and that sanctions against North Korea remain in full effect.
"I'd love to take the sanctions off, but they have to be responsive, too -- it's a two-way street," Trump said. He said he would probably meet Kim for a second summit "sometime early next year."
North Korea wants to see both sides take "simultaneous and phased" steps, with concessions from its side matched by similar steps from Washington, to reassure Kim that he can safely scale back or dismantle his nuclear weapons program.
The United States takes a fundamentally different approach, demanding North Korea fully denuclearize before sanctions are lifted.
In the past few weeks, the two sides appear to have grown farther apart. North Korea has increased its demands: It had been asking the United States to formally declare an end to the 1950-53 Korean War, but now it is arguing forcefully that it needs to see sanctions relief before it takes any further steps.
On Friday, a commentary published by the head of a North Korean Foreign Ministry think tank warned that Pyongyang might even restart its nuclear weapons program if sanctions are not lifted.
At the same time, South Korean government advisers and experts say Pyongyang is not prepared to hand over a list of its nuclear and missile facilities, believing such a document would effectively give the U.S. military a list of potential targets.
Information for this article was contributed by Min Joo Kim of The Washington Post; by Nick Wadhams, Alyza Sebenius and Youkyung Lee of Bloomberg News; and by Kim Tong-Hyung of The Associated Press.
A Section on 11/08/2018
Print Headline: U.S.-N. Korea nuke talks put off