A t-shirt featuring featuring U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is displayed for sale at a store in Hanoi, Vietnam. (Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg)  

U.S. Believes a Nuclear-Free North Korea Is Possible by 2021, Official Says

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. still believes North Korea can completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program by the end of President Donald Trump’s first term and is ready to engage in new talks after the collapse of the summit in Vietnam, a senior State Department official said on Thursday.

At the same time, the U.S. won’t be forced into any artificial timelines, the official said, in a nod to Trump’s remark -- repeated several times -- that he’s in no rush to achieve a deal. The official briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

The briefing came a week after Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi ended abruptly when the U.S. rejected a demand to provide sanctions relief in exchange for the destruction of parts of Kim’s Yongbyon nuclear complex. Among other issues, the two sides still disagree whether an earlier pledge to work toward “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” means solely the destruction of North Korea’s nuclear program or steps by the U.S. as well.

U.S. Believes a Nuclear-Free North Korea Is Possible by 2021, Official Says

On Wednesday, Trump said he would be “very disappointed” if reports are accurate that North Korea has begun rebuilding a missile test site it dismantled last year. The images from Beyond Parallel, part of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, showed that North Korea was rebuilding a long-range rocket site at the Sohae Launch Facility.

The official said the U.S. is aware of the satellite images and acknowledged there is “some level of reassembly” happening there but hasn’t drawn any conclusion yet about what that means. Reports on the construction work pointed out that it could have begun before the Trump-Kim summit. The official said the U.S. still has no information to suggest the site is operational.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton warned North Korea that it must be willing to completely give up its nuclear weapons program or it may face even tougher sanctions. He signaled willingness on the part of Trump’s administration to restarting talks.

“He thinks the deal is there if North Korea is willing to look at the big picture,” Bolton told Fox News earlier Thursday.

U.S. Believes a Nuclear-Free North Korea Is Possible by 2021, Official Says

Asked what the Trump administration is seeking when it calls for North Korean denuclearization, the U.S. official who briefed reporters said that would include dismantling all parts of the nuclear fuel cycle; removing nuclear warheads, intercontinental ballistic missiles and any other weapons-of-mass destruction programs; and reorienting its economy to more of a civilian focus.

The U.S. and North Korea aren’t as far along in negotiations as the Trump administration wants, but “the door remains open to talks as soon as possible,” the official said.

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