PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea accused the Trump administration on Saturday of pushing a “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization” and called it “deeply regrettable,” hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said his two days of talks in the North Korean capital were “productive.”
Despite North Korea’s criticism, its Foreign Ministry said the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, still wanted to build on the “friendly relationship and trust” forged with President Trump during their summit meeting in Singapore on June 12.
The ministry also said Mr. Kim had written a personal letter to Mr. Trump, which was handed to Mr. Pompeo to deliver.
Mr. Pompeo and his entourage offered no immediate evidence after talks ended that they had come away with anything tangible to show that the reclusive country was willing to surrender its nuclear and missile weapons programs. He did not meet with the North Korean leader but held talks with Kim Yong-chol, a senior North Korean official who has been negotiating with Americans for decades.“These are complicated issues, but we made progress on almost all of the central issues,” Mr. Pompeo said Saturday, standing on the tarmac at of a largely empty airport in Pyongyang just before boarding a plane for Tokyo.
However, the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s assessment was decidedly less upbeat.
“The attitude and demands from the U.S. side during the high-level talks were nothing short of deeply regrettable,” the ministry said.Mr. Pompeo came to Pyongyang to try to get the North Koreans to match their vague commitment to denuclearization — signed by Mr. Kim in the June meeting with President Trump — with some kind of action. Among the first priorities were a declaration of weapons sites, a timeline of deconstruction efforts and, perhaps, a written statement that the North’s definition of denuclearization matched Mr. Pompeo’s.
Asked if he had gotten any of those, Mr. Pompeo declined to divulge details.
Privately, Mr. Pompeo has said that he doubts Mr. Kim will ever give up his nuclear weapons. And those doubts have been reinforced in recent days by intelligence showing that North Korea, far from dismantling its weapons facilities, has been expanding them and taking steps to conceal the efforts from the United States.
Mr. Trump has said his summit with Mr. Kim was a success and he has declared the North “no longer a nuclear threat.”Squaring Mr. Trump’s evaluation with what increasingly seems like a more troubling reality could become one of Mr. Pompeo’s greatest challenges as the United States’ chief diplomat. Mr. Pompeo’s hope, according to one senior administration official, was to get the North Koreans to reveal their true intentions fairly quickly.
It was Mr. Pompeo’s third trip to Pyongyang but the first time he had spent the night. Even so, it appeared to have been his least productive.
There had been hopes that Mr. Pompeo would at least get the North to agree to release the remains of American service members killed in the Korean War. But Mr. Pompeo said that another meeting had been set up for July 12 for further talks on repatriating the remains, a dialogue that will be led by the Defense Department.
Mr. Pompeo and Kim Yong-chol began their meetings on Saturday in Pyongyang with the customary flowery greetings. But just before reporters were ushered out of the room, the exchange grew sharper.
“There are things that I have to clarify,” Mr. Kim said.
“There are things that I have to clarify as well,” Mr. Pompeo quickly responded.
At the airport in Pyongyang, when asked if he had brought up the satellite images that appeared to show that the North was actually expanding its capabilities, Mr. Pompeo responded: “We talked about what the North Koreans are continuing to do.”
He said they had discussed “achieving what Chairman Kim and President Trump both agreed to, which is the complete denuclearization of North Korea. No one walked away from that, they’re still equally committed, Chairman Kim is still committed.”Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, said earlier on Saturday that Mr. Pompeo had “been very firm” in insisting on North Korea’s complete denuclearization, as well as on the repatriation of the remains of American service members.
Mr. Pompeo had begun his day by leaving the elaborate guesthouse where he was staying to make a secure phone call to Mr. Trump. Also on the call were John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser; and John Kelly, the White House chief of staff. State Department officials have assumed that listening devices are planted throughout the guesthouse.
A small group of reporters traveling with Mr. Pompeo have been allowed into the Pyongyang meetings to record their initial moments, as is routine for such diplomatic encounters. But the North Koreans, unaccustomed to the presence of independent journalists, have allowed the reporters to stay several minutes longer than usual.
On Saturday morning, those extra moments led to the recording of an unusually lengthy exchange between Mr. Pompeo and Kim Yong-chol.
“This isn’t your first visit to our country, yet this is your first night in our country,” Mr. Kim began. “Did you sleep well last night?”
“I did, I did, thank you for the accommodation,” Mr. Pompeo answered. The American delegation is staying at the Paekhwawon guesthouse, an elaborate building just outside Pyongyang, beside a small lake with a tiny island in the center.
The place had the feel of a minor Middle Eastern palace, with high ceilings, gold carpets and stiff mattresses. Soldiers with rifles and fixed bayonets patrolled the perimeter of the guesthouse overnight (quickly disappearing into the shrubbery when a reporter jogged by).“The area around this Paekhwawon guesthouse is full of trees and plants, and the air is really fresh, so it is a good place for people over 50,” Mr. Kim said.
“That would include me,” Mr. Pompeo replied with a chuckle.
“But we did have very serious discussions on very important matters yesterday,” Mr. Kim said. “So thinking about those discussions, you might have not slept well last night.”
“Director Kim, I slept just fine,” Mr. Pompeo responded, an edge creeping into his voice. “We did have a good set of conversations yesterday. I appreciate that, and I look forward to our continued conversations today as well.”
Mr. Pompeo then glanced toward his staff, perhaps expecting the reporters to be led out. But Mr. Kim continued: “Since this is the first high-level discussion between our two countries since the Singapore summit, and hence the political field of the United States and the entire world is paying close attention to our meeting,” he said. “We have not yet announced the outcomes of our meeting, but the outside seems to think this is going well.”
“And I have heard the news that Secretary Pompeo is quite pleased with the meeting,” Mr. Kim added. “We are just doing our best we can to make your stay comfortable.”
Mr. Pompeo replied, “We consider this very important, too, since it is the first senior-level face-to-face meeting since the summit between our two leaders.” He added that “building a relationship between our two countries is vital for a brighter North Korea and the success that our two presidents demand of us.”
That was a slip, according to Sung-Yoon Lee, a Korea analyst at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts. He noted that Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founding leader, who died in 1994, is considered the North’s “eternal president,” and that Kim Jong-un, his grandson, would not dare to assume the title.Mr. Lee was also critical of the State Department’s announcement on Saturday that it had created a small working group to keep hammering out the details of a denuclearization agreement. Mr. Lee said that such groups had been a feature of past nuclear agreements with the North and had served only to postpone their eventual failure.
“Forming small working groups is another stalling, ensnaring tactic to keep the momentum and create the illusion of cooperation,” Mr. Lee said.
Many people who have negotiated with North Korea in the past, or who follow the country closely, also express doubt that the North will surrender its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. But Ms. Nauert denied on Saturday that Mr. Pompeo saw the process as doomed.
“There’s a lot of hard work that’s left to be done,” she said. “We never thought this would be easy, and that’s why consultations continue.”
For months, Mr. Pompeo has said that he would insist on achieving nothing less than the North’s “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization” — or C.V.I.D., as it has become known. But in recent days, Mr. Pompeo and Ms. Nauert have stopped using that phrase, leading to speculation that the United States has begun to dial back its demands.
Ms. Nauert said on Saturday that there had been no softening of the American position, although she would not explain the change in language.