March 29, 2020 / 10:38 PM / 2 months ago

North Korea says Pompeo undercuts its interest in restarting talks

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Monday that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo undermined its willingness to restart stalled denuclearisation talks, criticising his recent remarks on sanctions on Pyongyang.

A view shows the testing of what local media call a super-large multiple rocket launcher in North Korea, in this undated photo released on March 28, 2020 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS

Pompeo had said after a teleconference with G7 foreign ministers last week that all nations must remain united in calling for North Korea to return to negotiations and applying diplomatic and economic pressure over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

That comment highlighted the United States cannot reverse its hostile policy toward North Korea “no matter how excellent and firm the relationship” their two leaders have, state media KCNA said, citing an unnamed foreign ministry official responsible for the negotiations.

“Hearing Pompeo’s reckless remarks, we dropped the interest in dialogue with further conviction, but have become more zealous for our important planned projects aimed to repay the U.S. with actual horror and unrest for the sufferings it has inflicted upon our people,” the official was quoted as saying.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump have boasted of rapport they have built during three meetings and an exchange of multiple letters since 2018.

But little progress has been made on dismantling Pyongyang’s weapons programmes, with a last round of working-level talks in October falling apart.

North Korea has not confirmed any case of the coronavirus, but KCNA said Trump had sent a letter to Kim carrying a “sincere aid plan” to help prevent an outbreak, only to be followed up soon by Pompeo’s “slander” against the country.

Pyongyang has touted the letter as a sign of “the special and very firm personal relations” between the two leaders despite recent frictions.

“This makes us misjudge who is the real chief executive in the U.S.,” the diplomat said.

WEAPONS TEST

In an earlier dipatch on Monday, KCNA said Sunday’s test of super-large multiple rocket launchers had been a success.

North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Sunday, the latest in a flurry of launches that South Korea decried as “inappropriate” amid the coronavirus pandemic.

KCNA said the launch was aimed at examining the strategic and technical features of the launchers, which has been tested multiple times since last August overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, ahead of deployment.

KCNA did not mention Kim’s attendance at the latest test, led by ruling party vice chairman Ri Pyong Chol and conducted at the Academy of National Defense Science.

“The operational deployment of the weapon system of super-large multiple rocket launchers is a crucial work of very great significance in realising the party’s new strategic intention for national defence,” Ri was quoted as saying during the test, without elaborating.

A combination of pictures show the testing of what local media call a super-large multiple rocket launcher in North Korea, in this undated photo released on March 28, 2020 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS

“The test-fire was conducted successfully,” KCNA added.

It marked the fourth round of tests this month since North Korea staged military drills and resumed missile launches following a three-month break.

The move indicated the progress of Pyongyang’s weapons development while denuclearisation negotiations with the United States remain in limbo.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Heekyong Yang; Editing by Alison Williams and Chizu Nomiyama

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