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North Korea Claims United States Is Pushing Too Hard for Denuclearization

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North Korea said Saturday the U.S. is pushing too hard with its demands for denuclearization, after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo encouraged world leaders to maintain heavy sanctions pressure on Pyongyang.

Speaking at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional forum in Singapore, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said Pyongyang is “firm in its determination and commitment” to take steps to roll back its nuclear weapons program.

He also criticized Washington for insisting that international sanctions remain in place until North Korea completes nuclear disarmament.

“What is alarming, however, is the insistent moves manifested within the U.S. to go back to the old, far from its leader’s intention,” Ri said, according to Agence France-Presse.

Ri’s comments appeared to be a response to remarks Pompeo delivered hours earlier at the forum, where he pushed ASEAN leaders to uphold U.N. sanctions on the North Korean regime. Pompeo has previously broached the possibility of lifting sanctions, but only after Pyongyang dismantles its nuclear weapons program.

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“I’ve also emphasized the importance of maintaining diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of the DPRK, as agreed to by Chairman Kim,” Pompeo said Saturday.

“I called on (ASEAN members) to strictly enforce all sanctions, including the complete shutdown of illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum destined for North Korea,” he added.

Both Ri and Pompeo were referring to a joint statement signed by President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their historic summit in June. Though it was touted as the start of a new era in U.S.-North Korea relations, the vague agreement did not lay out any concrete steps either country would take to achieve Washington’s final goal of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.

Since then, little progress has been made in scaling back North Korea’s nuclear program. U.S. intelligence officials have assessed that Pyongyang has increased the production of nuclear fuel at multiple secret sites in recent months, a conclusion backed by a U.N. report released Friday.

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North Korea monitors have also raised concern that some U.N. countries are helping Pyongyang skirt international sanctions through illegal ship-to-ship transfers of oil. China and Russia, in particular, have been identified as the two biggest offenders, and both have resisted U.S. pressure to halt all petroleum shipments to North Korea.

Pompeo singled out Russia in his remarks at the ASEAN forum, saying he would raise the issue of sanctions violations with Moscow.

“We expect the Russians and all countries to abide by the U.N. Security Council resolutions and enforce sanctions on North Korea,” he said.

The severity of economic sanctions is the major sticking point in denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang. The Trump administration has insisted sanctions remain in force until North Korea’s disarmament can be verified, but Pyongyang says any moves it makes toward denuclearization must be accompanied by sanctions relief.

“As long as the US does not show in practice its strong will to remove our concerns, there will be no case whereby we will move forward first unilaterally,” Ri said Saturday, according to AFP.

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