Updated at 2130 KST: this article has been updated to include a response from the U.S. State Department.
North Korea’s foreign ministry urged U.S. President Donald Trump in a statement Thursday to remove Mike Pompeo as his top nuclear negotiator, accusing the Secretary of State of undermining efforts to improve relations between the two countries.
In a response to a question from a reporter from the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), director general of the foreign ministry’s Department of American Affairs Kwon Jong Gun accused Pompeo of “self-indulgence” and “reckless remarks.”
The foreign ministry official warned that Pyongyang would be reluctant to engage in dialogue with the U.S. should Pompeo lead them.
“I am afraid that, if Pompeo engages in the talks again, the table will be lousy once again and the talks will become entangled,” he said, according to an English-language version of the KCNA report.
“Therefore, even in the case of possible resumption of the dialogue with the U.S., I wish our dialogue counterpart would be not Pompeo but other person who is more careful and mature in communicating with us.”
The remarks come just days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told a session of the country’s Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) that he would wait until the end of the year for the U.S. to make a “resolute decision” about the future of diplomacy between the two countries.
Secretary of State Pompeo in response to that speech on Monday stressed that the DPRK leader had made a commitment to denuclearization and told reporters that Kim “said he wanted it done by the end of the year. I’d love to see that done sooner.”
The DPRK foreign ministry today, however, condemned the Secretary of State for his apparent misreading of Kim Jong Un’s remarks.
“Everyone has a clear interpretation of his speech which says that the U.S. should change its way of calculation and come up with responsive measures before the end of this year,” Kwon said in an English-language statement.
“Only Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of the State, is talking nonsense that its meaning is to finish the working level negotiation between the DPRK and the U.S. by the end of the year,” he continued.
The North Korean foreign ministry, too, attacked Pompeo for comments made to the U.S. Congress last week in which he accepted that Kim Jong Un could be defined as a “tyrant,” noting that the U.S. Secretary of State had several times met the DPRK leader in person.
“Pompeo was granted audiences with our Chairman of the State Affairs Commission for several times and pleaded for the denuclearization,” the official said.
“However, after sitting the other way round, he spouted reckless remarks hurting the dignity of our supreme leadership at Congress hearings last week to unveil his mean character by himself, thus stunning the reasonable people.”
Asked for a response to the statement, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department told NK News they were “aware of the report.”
“The United States remains ready to engage North Korea in a constructive negotiation,” they added.
Kwon on Thursday reiterated the North Korean leader’s remarks from last week that he and President Trump continue to enjoy a good relationship.
“It is fortunate that the personal relationship between our Chairman of the State Affairs Commission and President Trump is on good terms as usual and our Chairman is pleased to get on well with President Trump,” he said.
One expert noted the format of Thursday’s comment, pointing to past commentary by Kwon that did not appear in domestic media.
“Due to potential sensitivities of Kwon’s comments on such issues, his comments are only carried via KCNA, which targets external audiences, and are not carried by North Korean domestic media,” Minyoung Lee, an analyst with NK News‘s sister site NK Pro, said.
The comments are not the first time that an official from North Korea’s foreign ministry has accused the Secretary of State of playing a spoiler role in DPRK-U.S. diplomacy.
Vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui in March blamed Pompeo and U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton for the breakdown of talks at the February Kim-Trump summit in Hanoi.
The two, she said, had “created the atmosphere of hostility and mistrust and, therefore, obstructed the constructive effort for negotiations between the supreme leaders of North Korea and the United States.”
The remarks also, notably, come just hours after North Korean media reported that Kim Jong Un had yesterday oversaw a test of a new “tactical guided weapon” — a move experts said likely represented an expression of protest at an ongoing impasse in negotiations between the U.S. and the DPRK.
Additional reporting and editing by Colin Zwirko
Featured image: KCNA