Update at 1630 EST: This story has been updated to include additional comments from Mike Pompeo and analysis from Ken Gause
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday appeared undeterred by North Korea’s recent spate of missile tests, indicating that negotiations with Pyongyang might resume in two weeks.
Speaking to reporters at the State Department, Pompeo maintained Washington’s positive line on the prospect of negotiations with the DPRK.
“We are hopeful that in the coming weeks we will get back to the negotiating table,” the Secretary of State said. “We are planning for negotiations in a couple of weeks and we anticipate the two teams getting back together.”
Recent DPRK launches did not affect Washington’s willingness to negotiate and once again downplayed the significance of tests, he added.
“We watch the actions that they’re taking, the actions that are taking place inside of North Korea, and we are mindful that when we came in, there were – there was nuclear testing taking place,” Pompeo said.
“That has not occurred. There aren’t long-range missiles being fired. Those are both good things.”
The Secretary of State’s comments echo similar remarks made after U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to resume working-level talks during their third meeting at the end of June.
North Korea has also recently issued public statements which suggest it is not considering resuming negotiations in the near future.
“The U.S. and South Korean authorities remain outwardly talkative about dialogue, but when they sit back, they sharpen a sword to do us harm,” the country’s foreign ministry statement said on Tuesday, in response to joint ROK – U.S. military drills which began the previous day.
“If this is what they call ‘creative approach’ and ‘imaginative power beyond common sense,’ we will be compelled to seek a new road as we have already indicated,” it added — a reference to recent comments made by Pompeo.
At the time of writing, the State Department had not replied to request for comment on whether Washington and Pyongyang continued to communicate despite the opposing public stances.
But one expert told NK News that North Korea is unlikely to return to talks unless Washington offers some form of sanctions easing.
“Pyongyang has given no indication they are willing to talk unless we put real sanctions relief on the table,” Ken Gause, director of the Adversary Analytics Program at CNA, said.
The Trump Administration has so far not criticized North Korea’s recent missile tests, consistently arguing they are not a barrier to continued negotiations.
But on Tuesday U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said that Trump was keeping a close watch on the North Korean launches.
“The President and Kim Jong Un have an understanding that Kim Jong Un is not going to launch longer-range, intercontinental-range ballistic missiles, and so I think the President is watching this very, very carefully,” Bolton told Fox News.
On the same day, newly-appointed U.S. Secretary of Defense said that Washington was monitoring the North’s recent launches.
“While we take these launchings seriously, we monitor them, we try to understand what they’re doing and why,” Mark Esper said as he traveled to Japan.
“We also need to be careful not to overreact and not to get ourselves in a situation where diplomacy is closed off,” the U.S. defense official added, also confirming that North Korea’s tests were short-range ballistic missiles.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: State Department