North Korea’s top negotiator said late on Saturday that working-level nuclear talks in Sweden between officials from Pyongyang and Washington had broken off, dashing prospects for an end to months of stalemate.
The North’s chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Myong Gil, who spent much of the day in talks with an American delegation, cast the blame on what he portrayed as US inflexibility, saying the other side’s negotiators would not “give up their old viewpoint and attitude.”
“The negotiations have not fulfilled our expectation and finally broke off,” Kim told reporters outside the North Korean embassy, speaking through an interpreter.
The US State Department said those comments did not reflect “the content or spirit” of more than 8-1/2 hours of talks, and Washington had accepted Sweden’s invitation to return to Sweden for more discussions with Pyongyang in two weeks.
“The US brought creative ideas and had good discussions with its DPRK counterparts,” spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. North Korea is also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
She said the US delegation had previewed a number of new initiatives that would pave the way for progress in the talks, and underscored the importance of more intensive engagement to solve the many issues dividing both sides.
“The United States and the DPRK will not overcome a legacy of 70 years of war and hostility on the Korean Peninsula through the course of a single Saturday. These are weighty issues, and they require a strong commitment by both countries. The United States has that commitment,” she said.
North Korea’s Kim downplayed the US gestures.
“The US raised expectations by offering suggestions like a flexible approach, new method and creative solutions, but they have disappointed us greatly and dampened our enthusiasm for negotiation by bringing nothing to the negotiation table,” he said.
Swedish broadcaster TV4 reported that the US Special Representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, who led the US team, had arrived back at the country’s embassy in central Stockholm.
The Swedish foreign office declined to give any details on the invitation for new talks, or whether Pyongyang had accepted.
The meeting at an isolated conference center on the outskirts of Stockholm was the first formal working-level discussion since US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in June and agreed to restart negotiations that stalled after a failed summit in Vietnam in February.
Since June, US officials had struggled to persuade North Korea to return to the table, but that appeared to change this week when North Korea abruptly announced it had agreed to hold talks.
On Saturday evening, negotiator Kim Myong Gil accused the United States of having no intention of solving the countries’ difficulties through dialogue, but said a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was still possible.
He said it would only happen “when all the obstacles that threaten our safety and check our development are removed completely without a shadow of doubt,” an apparent reference to North Korea’s desire to see Washington ease economic pressure on it.
The delegation from North Korea, which is under sanctions banning much of its trade due to its nuclear program, arrived in Sweden on Thursday.
Analysts have said the leaders of both countries faced growing incentives to reach a deal, although it was unclear whether common ground could be found after months of tension and deadlock.
Jenny Town, a managing editor at 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea project, said the readout from the talks did not sound very promising.
“I think (North Korea’s) expectations were too high that the removal of Bolton would provide more flexibility on what the US wants as initial steps,” said Town. “While certainly it removes some pressure for an all or nothing deal, it seems the gap between what the two sides want as a baseline and are willing to reciprocate still has not narrowed.”
Only a day after announcing the new talks, North Korea said it had test-fired a new ballistic missile designed for submarine launch, a provocative gesture that also underscored the need for Washington to move quickly to negotiate limits on Pyongyang’s growing arsenal.
Speaking in Athens on the last leg of a tour of southern Europe while the talks were still underway in Stockholm, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said he was hopeful of progress in the talks.
“We are mindful this will be the first time that we’ve had a chance to have a discussion in quite some time and that there remains to be a lot of work that will have to be done by the two teams,” he told a news conference.