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N Korea at crossroads

Trump downplays North Korea tensions amid denuclearization doubts

Kim Jong Un's UN envoy says nuclear issue off negotiating table

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversees a rocket-launcher test in this undated picture released by North Korea's Central News Agency on Nov. 28.   © Reuters

UNITED NATIONS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations said on Saturday that denuclearization is off the negotiating table with the United States and lengthy talks with Washington are not needed, the starkest statement yet emphasizing the gulf between the two sides ahead of a year-end deadline set by Pyongyang.

U.S. President Donald Trump sought to play down a recent surge in tensions with North Korea, stressing what he said was his good relationship with its leader Kim Jong Un and saying he thought Kim wanted a deal, not to interfere in next year's U.S. presidential election.

"We'll see about North Korea. I'd be surprised if North Korea acted hostilely," Trump told reporters at the White House before leaving for Florida.

"He knows I have an election coming up. I don't think he wants to interfere with that, but we'll have to see ... I think he'd like to see something happen. The relationship is very good, but you know, there is certain hostility, there's no question about it."

Trump has invested considerable time trying to persuade North Korea to give up a nuclear weapons program that has grown to threaten the United States, but progress has been scant in spite of his three meetings with Kim Jong Un.

Tensions have risen ahead of a year-end deadline set by North Korea, which has called on the United States to change its policy of insisting on Pyongyang's unilateral denuclearization and demanded relief from punishing sanctions.

Kim Jong Un has warned of an unspecified "new path" next year, raising fears this could mean an end to a suspension in nuclear bomb and long-range missile testing in place since 2017 that Trump has held up as a key win from his engagement efforts.

U.N. Ambassador Kim Song said in a statement the "sustained and substantial dialogue" sought by the United States was a "time-saving trick" to suit its domestic political agenda, a reference to Trump's 2020 reelection bid.

"We do not need to have lengthy talks with the U.S. now and denuclearization is already gone out of the negotiating table," he said.

Kim Song's comments appeared to go further than North Korea's earlier warning that discussions related to its nuclear weapons program might have to be taken off the table given Washington's refusal to offer concessions.

On Tuesday, North Korea's Foreign Ministry repeated a call for Washington to change its "hostile policies" and said it was up to Washington to decide what "Christmas gift" came at the end of the year.

Kim Song also hit out at a statement this week from EU members of the U.N. Security Council criticizing recent short range launches by North Korea, calling it a "serious provocation" and saying they were playing the role of "pet dog" of the United States.

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