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Pompeo notes hope for N. Korea talks

by MATTHEW LEE The Associated Press | August 1, 2019 at 3:55 a.m. | Updated August 1, 2019 at 3:55 a.m.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks with reporters aboard his plane en route to Thailand, before taking off from Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Tuesday, July 30, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool Photo via AP)

BANGKOK -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that he's very hopeful for a quick resumption in nuclear talks with North Korea despite the North's recent weapons tests that have clouded already uncertain prospects for a return to the table.

Pompeo told reporters accompanying him to an Asian security conference in Thailand that some preliminary work on a new round of talks has been done but that no dates have been set. He said he's waiting to see if North Korea's foreign minister goes to Bangkok for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum and is confident they will meet if he does. The State Department said the lead U.S. negotiator, Stephen Biegun, will be in Bangkok for North Korea-related discussions but has not released his schedule.

"We think they'll be started before too long," Pompeo said. "I'm very hopeful."

Talks have been stalled since President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's summit in February in Hanoi that broke up over disagreements about sanctions relief and what actions the North would have to take in exchange. But they agreed to restart the talks when they met in June at the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas. At the time, U.S. officials spoke of the negotiations resuming in a matter of weeks.

"It's taken a little bit longer than that," Pompeo said. "There's been a little bit of preliminary work to be done. I never want to set a date [but] I hope before too long we will have Special Representative Biegun sitting with what I think will be a new counterpart from North Korea."

On Wednesday, the South Korean military said the North conducted a short-range ballistic missile test. It was the second such test in the past week.

But North Korea disputed the South's assessment of the tests, saying today that Kim supervised test firings of a new multiple-rocket launcher system that he sees as soon serving a "main role" in his military's land-combat operations.

The recent tests were seen as a move to keep up pressure on Washington and Seoul amid the impasse in nuclear negotiations. Pyongyang has also expressed anger over planned U.S.-South Korea military drills.

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency reported that Kim expressed satisfaction over the test firings and said the newly developed rocket system would create an "inescapable distress to the forces becoming a fat target of the weapon."

The annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations security meeting has been used in the past as a venue for U.S.-North Korea talks, and although the North has signaled that its top diplomat may not attend this year, Pompeo was nonplussed.

"We don't anticipate that the North Koreans will be at the event in Bangkok, but if they are, I'd look forward to the chance to meet with Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho," he said, adding that such a meeting "would be great."

"We'll see if they are there, and if they are there, I am confident we'll meet," he said.

Even if such a meeting does not occur, Pompeo will have a full plate of thorny issues to contend with in Bangkok.

Among them are rising tensions with China over its increasingly assertive behavior in the South China Sea, hostility toward pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, and mass detentions of Muslims and other minority-group members in China's western region of Xinjiang. Pompeo will meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi today.

Pompeo will also be seeking in Bangkok to ease brewing tensions over trade between U.S. allies Japan and South Korea that threaten to disrupt Seoul's electronics industry and draws on long-standing bitterness over Japan's actions toward Korea during World War II.

Information for this article was contributed by Kim Tong-Hyung of The Associated Press.

A Section on 08/01/2019

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