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U.S. sees slimmer chance of diplomatically ending N.K. nuclear program

09:20 November 16, 2019

By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, Nov. 15 (Yonhap) -- A senior U.S. official warned Friday that the chances of diplomatically ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program are growing slim.

Speaking to reporters in a background briefing, the senior State Department official said he had delivered the message to Chinese officials on a recent trip to Beijing.

"I urged Beijing to maintain pressure on the regime, noting the space for a diplomatic solution is quickly closing," the official said without elaborating, "and that Beijing must take action to prevent sanctions evasion that occurs in its jurisdiction, such as a failure to stop ship-to-ship transfers of coal and oil that take place in Chinese waters."

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un after crossing the Military Demarcation Line into the North's side at the truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, which separates the two Koreas, on June 30, 2019. Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to step onto North Korean soil. (Yonhap)

The comment comes as denuclearization negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since a second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in February ended without a deal.

The North has stepped up pressure on the U.S. to come up with an acceptable offer before the end of the year as it seeks sanctions relief and security guarantees in exchange for the dismantling of its nuclear weapons program.

Earlier this week North Korea's top nuclear negotiator, Kim Myong-gil, claimed that the U.S. had proposed another working-level meeting in December.

The two sides last met in Stockholm, Sweden, in early October, but those talks also ended without results.

As North Korea's only major ally and trading partner, China is seen as critical to efforts to denuclearize the regime.

The U.S. official said he urged Beijing to ensure that the thousands of North Korean workers in China are sent home by Dec. 22, as mandated by a U.N. Security Council resolution backed also by China.

"These guest workers provide a valuable source of revenue for Pyongyang," he said. Much of the laborers' income is known to be sent back to the North Korean regime to fund its development of weapons of mass destruction.

"This has not been reported widely in public, but these workers -- whether in China, Russia, the Middle East, or Africa -- are subject to terrible deprivations that fall far short of international standards to protect workers," he added.

Meanwhile, the official expressed hope that South Korea and Japan will soon be able to mend their frayed ties, citing recent meetings between the two countries' prime ministers, as well as between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"To use a naval metaphor, for a long time the bow was going down. The bow is beginning to rise," he said. "The photos I saw from that were positive and smiling, so these are all things -- and really all it needs is a kickstart, right? They just need to get something that allows them to move forward again on the relationship."

Washington has urged its two allies to resolve their dispute over trade and wartime history in the interest of the three countries' mutual interests. In particular, it has pressured Seoul to retract its decision to terminate a military intelligence-sharing pact with Tokyo, citing the potential negative impact on three-way cooperation against North Korea's nuclear threat and China's military assertiveness.

The pact, called the General Security of Military Information Agreement, is set to expire on Nov. 23.

"We're doing all we can in that regard," the official said. "I'm hopeful."

hague@yna.co.kr
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