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N Korea at crossroads

North Korea denounces 'gangster-like' US demand to disarm

Pompeo joins Tokyo and Seoul peers to reaffirm sanctions until denuclearization

SEOUL -- North Korea warned Saturday that its talks with the U.S. have taken a "dangerous" turn that may shake its commitment to denuclearize, in a burst of anger that came as America's top diplomat ended another visit to the country.

The strongly worded statement by the foreign ministry showed North Korea bristling at U.S. talk of pursuing "complete, verifiable and irreversible" denuclearization.

"The U.S. attitude and positions at the high-level talks on Friday and Saturday were extremely regrettable" and raise the "risk of war," the ministry said through the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in North Korea for the first time since the June 12 summit in Singapore between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Pompeo had met with Kim himself on his two previous visits, but not this time.

While the North proposed discussing denuclearization in parallel with other issues, such as expanding its interaction with the U.S. and declaring peace in the 1950-1953 Korean War, "the U.S. side came up only with its unilateral and gangster-like demand," the ministry said.

Trust between the two nations was "facing a dangerous situation where our resolve for denuclearization, which has been firm and steadfast, may falter," said the statement, adding that a phased approach in which both sides take steps at the same time is the "fastest way" to a nuclear-weapons-free Korean Peninsula.

Nevertheless, the ministry also stated that North Korea still trusts Trump, who sent a letter to Kim along with Pompeo.

The American side painted the meetings between Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol, a key figure in the North Korean regime, in a different light.

The talks were "very productive," with progress made in many areas, the secretary of state told U.S. reporters accompanying him to Pyongyang. The two sides agreed to set up working groups to discuss issues like verifying denuclearization, said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, who is traveling with Pompeo, according to the U.S. press handout.

Pompeo arrived in Tokyo on Saturday for his first visit to Japan since taking office in April. He held a three-way meeting with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts -- Taro Kono of Japan and Kang Kyung-wha of South Korea -- briefing them on his discussions with Kim Yong Chol.

The three officials confirmed their commitment to complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles in North Korea. They discussed ways to cooperate on achieving this goal, including verification of the denuclearization process and removal of nuclear weapons from North Korea. 

In a joint news conference in Tokyo on Sunday, the three officials reiterated that the economic sanctions should be kept in place until the goal of North Korean denuclearization is achieved.

"The enforcement of those actions will continue until denuclearization is complete," Pompeo said. 

"And so while we are encouraged by the progress of these talks, progress alone does not justify the relaxation of the existing sanctions regime," he said.

Pompeo voiced optimism about achieving denuclearization, despite the apparent foot-dragging by North Korea, saying "North Korea reaffirmed its commitment to complete denuclearization."

He added that the U.S. and North Korea will meet again in mid-July in the Korean border village of Panmunjom to discuss the repatriation of remains of U.S. soldiers who died during the 1950-53 Korean War. North Korea reaffirmed its earlier commitment to destroy its missile engine test site, Pompeo said.

The issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea was also raised with North Korea, Pompeo said. "I've done it at each conversation I've had with my North Korean counterparts ... I've raised it repeatedly," he said.

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