A copy of the Asia Economy newspaper featuring images of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is displayed for sale at a newsstand in Seoul, South Korea. (Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg)

Kim Jong Un Rethinks U.S. Nuclear Talks, Pause in Missile Tests

(Bloomberg) -- Kim Jong Un will soon decide whether to halt nuclear disarmament talks with the U.S., a top North Korean diplomat said, in the latest sign of fallout from his failed summit with President Donald Trump last month.

Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui told reporters and diplomats Friday in Pyongyang that North Korea blamed the U.S.’s “gangster-like” demands for the breakdown in talks, according to the Associated Press. Choe said Kim would clarify his position on whether to continue his 15-month freeze on bomb and missile tests “in a short period of time,” the AP reported.

Kim Jong Un Rethinks U.S. Nuclear Talks, Pause in Missile Tests

“I want to make it clear that the gangster-like stand of the U.S. will eventually put the situation in danger,” Choe said, according to the AP. “We have neither the intention to compromise with the U.S. in any form nor much less the desire or plan to conduct this kind of negotiation.”

Asked about Choe’s comments, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo struck a conciliatory tone, saying the U.S. hoped to keep talking with North Korea.

“She left open the possibility that negotiations would continue,” Pompeo told reporters Friday. “It’s the administration’s desire that we continue to have conversations around this.”

The future of nuclear talks between the two sides have been in limbo since Trump decided to walk away from a Feb. 28 meeting in Hanoi without an agreement to reduce Kim’s arsenal. Each side has blamed the other, with the U.S. saying North Korea demanded too much sanctions relief and Pyongyang faulting Washington for rejecting its promises to reduce its nuclear program.

The North Korean statements will likely fuel speculation that Kim might reconsider his halt on weapons tests, something Trump has touted as one of his administration’s top foreign policy achievements. Even after the Hanoi summit collapsed, the U.S. announced it would end two major annual military drills with South Korea, a move many analysts viewed as a concession to Kim.

Since then, however, analysis of commercial satellite imagery has signaled new activity at high-profile missile sites -- something Choe declined to explain Friday, according to the AP.

Stocks Fall

South Korea’s so-called peace stocks, which move on speculation about developments in North Korea, fell in Seoul trading Friday. Shares of Hyundai Elevator Co. tumbled 6.9 percent while Hyundai Rotem Co. slid as much as 5.5 percent.

As with previous North Korean complaints about talks with the Trump administration, Choe made an effort to separate the president from his top aides. While she touted the “mysteriously wonderful” chemistry between the two leaders, she faulted Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton with upending talks.

“This time we understood very clearly that the United States has a very different calculation to ours,” Choe said, according to the AP. North Korea also called the U.S. “gangster-like” after a fraught visit by Pompeo in July.

“I have a vague recollection of being called gangster-like from a visit that I took one time previously and following that we continued to have very professional conversations,” Pompeo said in response. “I have every expectation that we’ll be able to continue to do that.”

The threat to reconsider talks is consistent with Kim’s warnings before deciding to hold the second summit with Trump. In a televised New Year’s address, Kim threatened to take a “new path” if Washington didn’t relax crippling economic sanctions.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s office said in response to Choe’s comments that his government would support the reopening of U.S.-North Korean talks “under any circumstances.”

Trump had said in Hanoi that Kim insisted that sanctions be completely lifted. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho disputed Trump’s claim, saying the regime only asked that UN sanctions imposed during 2016 and 2017 be lifted.

On Thursday, Trump’s envoy for North Korea called on United Nations Security Council members to stay united in pressuring Kim to give up his nuclear weapons, according to a diplomat who was present at the meeting. Special Representative Stephen Biegun told council members that UN sanctions must be maintained and remain fully implemented amid talks, said the diplomat, and requested anonymity to discuss it.

Earlier this week, Biegun dismissed speculation that a tougher U.S. line in Hanoi could have been due to the presence of Pompeo and Bolton alongside Trump. “That position has not hardened,” he said at a Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington.

While both sides have indicated that they remain open to another meeting between the leaders, Choe suggested Kim was losing patience. She recounted a remark the North Korean leader made during his long train ride home through China after the summit.

“On our way back to the homeland, our chairman of the State Affairs Commission said, ‘For what reason do we have to make this train trip again?’” Choe said, according the AP.

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