By Jeff Mason and David Brunnstrom
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he expects to meet again with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un early next year and that a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean officials supposed to have taken place this week would be rescheduled.
Pompeo had been due to hold talks in New York on Thursday with senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol aimed at paving the way for a second summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un and at making progress on denuclearization.
The State Department said early on Wednesday that the meeting had been postponed, but gave no reason, raising concerns that talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear arms could break down. The State Department said the talks would be rescheduled “when our respective schedules permit.”
Trump told a White House news conference the change was “because of trips that are being made,” but did not elaborate on these.”We are going to make it … another day,” he said. “But we’re very happy with how it’s going with North Korea. We think it’s going fine. We’re in no rush.”
Trump said he still expected to hold a second summit with Kim. “Some time next year, I would say. Sometime early next year,” he said.
Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization at an unprecedented first meeting with Trump in Singapore but negotiations have made little headway since, with North Korea falling short of U.S. demands for irreversible moves to abandon a weapons program that potentially threatens the United States.
Pyongyang has complained that Washington has not made concessions in return for the moves it has taken and last Friday warned it could resume development of its nuclear program if the United States did not drop its sanctions campaign.
The Trump administration has said that sanctions will not be lifted until North Korea gives up its weapons.
“The sanctions are on. … I’d love to take the sanctions off, but they (North Korea) have to be responsive, too,” Trump said on Wednesday.
The State Department said “conversations continue to take place,” with North Korea, and added: “The United States remains focused on fulfilling the commitments agreed to by President Trump and Chairman Kim at the Singapore summit in June.”
South Korea, which has worked to encourage U.S.-North Korea dialogue, sought to play down the talks delay.
South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha said on Thursday the North had suggested a postponement. “The North side said ‘both of our schedules are busy, so let’s postpone,'” Kang said, according what she was told by the United States.
Presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said Seoul did not believe it would mean that the second summit would not take place and a senior South Korean foreign ministry official said that while the rescheduling was regrettable, there was no need to “overthink the postponement”.
“I think we have to look at it as a part of the process of reaching complete denuclearization and setting up a peace regime,” the unnamed official told reporters.
Trump spoke after his Republican Party lost control of the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday after the Democrats rode a wave of dissatisfaction with his presidency in mid-term elections.
Some analysts believe this weakened state could impact Trump’s foreign policy and test his North Korean diplomatic gambit.
While Republicans maintained control of the Senate, the Democrats now have the opportunity to block Trump’s agenda and open his administration to intense scrutiny.
Democrats have said they are determined to obtain more information about meetings between Trump and Pompeo and Kim, worried that Trump is so eager to make a “great deal” that he will give Kim too much with little in return.
North Korea has for years pursued nuclear and missile programs in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions but the bellicose rhetoric from both Pyongyang and Trump that raised fears of war has eased this year.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason, David Brunnstrom and Lisa Lambert in Washington; additional reporting by Eric Beech in WASHINGTON and Joyce Lee in SEOUL; Editing by Nick Macfie and James Dalgleish)