North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un might be having second thoughts about his pledge to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, a top U.S. ambassador said Tuesday.
“Are they wishing or maybe changing their mind on denuclearization?” Nikki Haley, the U.S. representative at the United Nations, told the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “It’s possible. But we’re not going to change our mind on the sanctions.”
Her comments are another sign that negotiations over the dismantling of the regime’s nuclear program have reached an impasse, days after the cancellation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s scheduled trip to Pyongyang. U.S. officials are frustrated with North Korea’s recalcitrance, while Kim’s regime is demanding economic relief in advance of any major concessions related to the nuclear program.
“We knew this was going to be a slow, tough process,” she said.
Pompeo scrapped plans to travel to North Korea with a newly appointed special representative for the talks on Friday, just one day after announcing the trip. The plan was changed, according to the Washington Post, after the administration received a “sufficiently belligerent” letter from the North Korean regime.
“America stands ready to engage when it is clear that Chairman Kim stands ready to deliver on the commitments that he made at the Singapore summit to President Trump to completely denuclearize North Korea,” Pompeo said in Tuesday statement.
North Korean officials have protested Pompeo’s insistence on maintaining sanctions pressure during the negotiations. “It is essential for both sides to take simultaneous actions and phased steps to do what is possible one after another,” Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said at a recent international summit. “Only when the U.S. ensures that we feel comfortable with and come close to it, will we be able to open our minds to the U.S. and show it inaction.”
Trump’s team is refusing, in order to avoid a scenario in which North Korea profits from talks without rolling back the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. But China and Russia have endorsed North Korea’s preferred process, while enabling the regime to import oil at levels that exceed a U.N.-imposed cap, according to Haley’s team.
Still, Haley offered a positive assessment of the sanctions pressure on Tuesday.
“The positive is that we have sanctions that basically cut off 90 percent of their trade, 30 percent of their oil, and we’re holding tight on those sanctions,” she said. “I mean, if you look at cutting off 90 percent of trade, 30 percent of oil; stopping their foreign laborers from working; stopping all foreign investment. Literally all the money they use to build their intercontinental ballistic missiles is gone.”
She said the current standoff is still an improvement over last year’s saber-rattling. “The good thing I can tell you is we haven’t had to deal with ballistic missile testing in months,” Haley added. “So the positive is we’re now talking. The positive is we’re not dealing with ballistic missile tests.”