Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un will likely meet again after New Year, the US vice president said Thursday, but insisted his government would not repeat past mistakes where “promises are broken.”
The US president and the North Korean leader held a historic summit in Singapore earlier this year, signing a vaguely worded deal on denuclearisation.
North Korea has taken some steps since then — forgoing nuclear and missile tests, dismantling a missile test site and promising to also break up the country’s main nuclear complex if the US makes concessions.
But progress has generally been slow, with the two countries sparring over the exact meaning of the agreement.
Trump has said he hopes to have a second meeting with Kim early next year, but talks between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a top North Korean official planned for last week, partly to prepare for the meeting, were cancelled.
The US said the North axed the talks because they weren’t ready, and Trump insisted he was in “no rush”.
Speaking in Singapore, US Vice President Mike Pence insisted plans for the second meeting were still “ongoing”.
“We believe that the summit will likely occur after the 1st of the year but the when and the where of that is still being worked out,” he told reporters.
“We don’t want to repeat the mistakes of prior administrations — frankly both political parties have made over the last several decades — where promises are made, sanctions are lifted and economic support comes and then promises are broken.”
His comments came after a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of a summit attended by world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
– Maximum pressure –
Pence urged other countries at the meeting to keep up sanctions pressure on the North amid signs that Pyongyang’s traditional trading partners, China and Russia, have eased enforcement.
Seoul has also said it is mulling lifting its own measures against Pyongyang.
US officials insist on the complete, verified and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula before sanctions are lifted.
The North has rejected demands for what it calls “unilateral” disarmament, and has instead sought unspecified reciprocal US measures in a gradual process.
It has also called for sanctions to be eased as a reward for coming to the table, warning Washington’s stance is undermining confidence.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe piled on the pressure in a meeting with members of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), insisting sanctions should be fully enforced.
“He urged ASEAN countries to collaborate on concrete measures such as ship-to-ship transfer of prohibited materials, including fuel,” said foreign ministry spokesman Takeshi Osuga.
Trump has skipped this week’s Singapore summit, the biggest annual meeting organised by ASEAN, raising new questions about US commitment to Asia.
Taking his place, Pence insisted America’s commitment to the region was “steadfast and enduring”.
Pence also took a swipe at Beijing, whose growing assertiveness in the South China Sea has long been a source of friction with rival claimants in Southeast Asia and the United States.
“Empire and aggression have no place in the Indo-Pacific,” Pence said.
But with the US retreating behind protectionism under the Trump administration, China has stepped into the space it has vacated as the champion of global free trade.
Chinese Premier Li, who was also in Singapore, beat the drum for the world’s largest free trade deal — which excludes the US — but sweeps in nearly half of the globe’s population including all of the 10-country ASEAN bloc.
Southeast Asian leaders welcomed the “substantial progress” made towards completing the RCEP, as the deal is known, which is forecast to be signed and enacted next year if sticking points including over market access can be surmounted.
“We are very close to the finish line,” Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsieng Loong said in a closing speech of the 16-nation deal, which also includes India, Japan and Australia.