Top US diplomat says start of 'new day' in NKorea talks

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – International efforts to reign in North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs have breached a critical juncture, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday.

"We’re at the dawn of a new day," Pompeo, who will travel to the North next month, told the UN Security Council. "We do not yet know what that day will bring, but we are hopeful that the current breakthrough in diplomacy will yield a brighter future for North Korea and a safer world for all of us."

Pompeo laid credit for much of the diplomatic momentum with U.S President Donald Trump, saying he "has led the international pressure campaign that has resulted in the first significant diplomatic breakthrough in decade."

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held a historic summit in June aimed at securing progress in efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

That meeting was later followed up with inter-Korean talks that have produced North Korea's first agreement to take specific denuclearization steps, including the permanent closure of facilities at Yongbyon, according to South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

North Korea has been seeking to have international sanctions eased by the Security Council, but Washington has remained adamant they only be lifted following complete and irreversible denuclearization.

Pompeo maintained the position during Thursday's council session, saying Washington has evidence that a UN-mandated petroleum cap of 500,000 barrels per year has already been breached through illegal ship-to-ship transfers.

He said the U.S. has seen evidence that North Korea continues to export coal in contravention of existing sanctions, saying the funds it gains from the sales "go directly to its WMD programs."

"While sanctions remain part of the total approach we are pursuing to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons, I want to finish on a positive note," he said. "We are well into a diplomatic process, and we hope – indeed, we want – to see this through to a successful end."

While U.S. allies continued to maintain the necessity of continuing sanctions, Russia and China — both of whom are critical to the North Korean economy — urged the Council to begin to take steps to pull back its economic penalties.

“Any negotiation is a two-way street,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the Council. “Gradual disarmament should be met with the easing of sanctions."

“The excessive use of the sanctions instruments of the Security Council have already become the reason why member states and international organizations often cannot normally maintain even humanitarian, diplomatic and sporting ties with the DPRK, which have nothing to do with the development of nuclear and missile programs,” he said, using an acronym for North Korea.