The U.S. on Thursday denied reports by Seoul’s Yonhap News Agency suggesting Washington was considering a temporary suspension of some sanctions on the DPRK in exchange for a nuclear freeze and other concessions.
In comments delivered during a regular briefing to press, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus told reporters she had discussed the report with U.S. Special Representative Stephen Biegun and that he had denied the claims.
Yonhap’s reporting claimed that the U.S. was considering offering the DPRK a 12-18 month suspension of certain sectoral sanctions should the North dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear facility and freeze nuclear development.
Citing unnamed sources, the article said that the U.S. was seeking to build a compromise with the North ahead of a planned restart of working-level negotiations, agreed to by the two countries’ leaders at a summit last month.
Asked about that report Thursday, Ortagus stressed that the U.S. would not “preview any sort of sanctions from the podium, whether it’s adding new ones or taking them away.”
“I will say that I did actually speak to Steve Biegun about that, and he categorically denied that,” she said. “He said that report is completely false, so there is no truth to that.”
But while Thursday saw the State Department deny that it was considering a lifting of sanctions with a “snap back” option should Pyongyang renege on its promises, there are growing hints that the U.S. is increasingly open to a more flexible position vis-à-vis North Korea.
Reports in the wake of the June 30 meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un suggested Washington was open to negotiating “a nuclear freeze” — an agreement that would see the U.S. tacitly accept the DPRK’s position as a nuclear-armed state while limiting further development.
Those reports, initially strongly denied by White House National Security Advisor John Bolton, appeared to be at least in part confirmed this week, with the State Department suggesting that such a deal could serve as the “beginning” of a longer process.
“(A) freeze, you know, that would never be the resolution of a process,” spokesperson Ortagus told reporters. “That would never be the end of a process.”
“I don’t think that the administration has ever characterized a freeze as being the end goal. That would be at the beginning of the process.”
No date or time has been set for the planned working-level talks, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo previously said he expected would begin in mid-July.
This week saw Special Representative Biegun meet with his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon in Berlin, where the two were reported to have discussed prospects for a reboot in nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and the DPRK.
“The two sides agreed to continue diplomatic efforts for the early resumption of working-level talks as agreed on by the leaders of the North and the U.S.,” a South Korean foreign ministry statement said following their meeting on Thursday.
The U.S. has ruled out potential talks with North Korean counterparts during Biegun’s visit to Europe this week, with the State Department earlier saying there was “no plan” to hold any such meetings.
An official at Blue House yesterday said the U.S. and South Korea are “still waiting for a response” from the North to a proposal for working-level meetings.
Featured image: White House