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N Korea at crossroads

US-North Korea nuclear talks break down: Pyongyang envoy

Washington puts positive spin on meeting, saying talks will continue in two weeks

North Korea's delegation in Stockholm on Saturday: Chief negotiator Kim Myong Gil, third from right, said that expectations for the talks had not been fulfilled.   © Kyodo

WASHINGTON -- Nuclear talks between North Korea and the U.S. in Stockholm have ended less than 24 hours after they began, Pyongyang's lead negotiator said Saturday, a claim that was quickly disputed by Washington.

The working-level negotiations "have not fulfilled our expectation and finally broke off," said Kim Myong Gil as reported by Reuters.

"The U.S. raised expectations by offering suggestions like a flexible approach," Kim said. "But they have disappointed us greatly and dampened our enthusiasm for negotiation by bringing nothing to the negotiating table."

The U.S. struck a more positive note, with the State Department saying the North Korean delegation's comments "do not reflect the content or the spirit of today's 8 1/2 hour discussion."

"The U.S. brought creative ideas and had good discussions" with its North Korean counterparts, the state department said in a statement after Kim spoke. The U.S. delegation accepted an invitation by Sweden "to return to Stockholm to meet again in two weeks."

Delegations from the two countries had convened on the outskirts of the Swedish capital to address North Korea's denuclearization. The U.S. negotiating team is led by Stephen Biegun, special representative for North Korea. This marked the first direct talks since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met at the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea in late June.

Washington and Pyongyang have been unable to agree on a framework for denuclearization and the accompanying concessions, such as the lifting of sanctions. The U.S. has pursued an all-or-nothing "big deal" approach while North Korea seeks an incremental process. No progress appears to have been made in Stockholm toward narrowing that gap.

Although North Korea has recently refrained from testing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, Kim Myong Gil indicated that whether the freeze would remain in place depended on the American response.

Some within the Trump administration argue that focusing on North Korea's full denuclearization is impeding a potential breakthrough. The departure of John Bolton, Trump's former national security adviser and a "big deal" proponent, last month may have raised Pyongyang's hopes for U.S. concessions.

Before the talks, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had expressed optimism at a news conference Saturday in Athens, saying that "we hope these initial meetings can set the course for a set of dialogues that can take place in the coming weeks and months."

The sides met just two days after Pyongyang fired a new type of ballistic missile from a submarine, marking a major advancement in the North's military capability.

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