North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs may have set up a new internal department to specifically handle negotiations with the United States, a South Korean official said on Tuesday. According to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said that a recent North Korean statement suggested that the older Department of North American affairs may no longer be the body in charge of negotiation with the United States.
On Monday, the Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s external state media, featured a stated attributed to the “new department director general for negotiations with the U.S.” The statement took aim at U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had earlier made comments suggesting that the United States would not provide any relief to North Korea from economic sanctions until Pyongyang had made significant concessions on its nuclear weapons programs.
“It appears certain that the post is a newly created position,” an unnamed South Korean official told Yonhap. “It is not clear, however, whether it would replace the existing department for North American affairs or would be run independently,” the official added.
In return, the statement threatened the United States with “payback,” and reiterated that North Korea was pursuing its “own path.” “The call for dialogue, a scheme of the U.S. President to lure us and earn favorable time and circumstances for himself, has been seriously damaged through [Pompeo’s] ludicrous remarks,” the statement added, with a rare negative mention of U.S. President Donald J. Trump, who has been spared most criticism by North Korean state media in recent months.
Pompeo, speaking on Monday, told reporters that the United States would not lift sanctions on North Korea. “The President’s position on North Korea and mine has been in lockstep since the very first day I became secretary of state,” Pompeo said. “We have been trying very diligently from the American side to move forward with those negotiations and hope that we will get an opportunity to do that.”
Earlier, Pompeo had told the G-7 foreign ministers that they should “remain united” in opposing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program after Pyongyang held at least four major missile launch events in the month of March, alongside other military training activities.
Negotiations between the United States and North Korea have been largely frozen since a failed working-level meeting in October 2019 in Stockholm, Sweden. Broader movement on the diplomatic agenda on both denuclearization and sanctions relief has been moribund since the February 2019 summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Trump and Kim have met two other times. They held their first summit in June 2018 in Singapore. A third meeting — after Hanoi — took place briefly at the inter-Korean Demilitarized Zone as part of a Trump trip to South Korea.