US to keep pressures on North Korea ahead of Trump-Kim summit

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South Korean National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong (C) briefs reporters outside the West Wing of the White House on March 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)

The United States has warned that it will keep sanctions pressure on North Korea until Pyongyang takes concrete steps to end its nuclear program after President Donald Trump agreed to meet North Koran leader Kim Jong-un.

US Vice President Mike Pence made the warning on Friday, saying the announcement that the US and North Korean leaders would meet in May shows that Washington’s efforts to isolate Kim had been vindicated.

“North Korea’s desire to meet to discuss denuclearization — while suspending all ballistic missile and nuclear testing — is evidence that President Trump’s strategy to isolate the Kim regime is working,” Pence said in a statement.

“Our resolve is undeterred and our policy remains the same: all sanctions remain in place and the maximum pressure campaign will continue until North Korea takes concrete, permanent, and verifiable steps to end their nuclear program,” he added.

Speaking outside the White House on Thursday, South Korea’s National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong announced the first ever meeting between a US president and a North Korean leader would take place by May.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says Washington is ready for “talks” with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, not “negotiations.”

In a notably restrained tweet, Trump hailed “great progress” in the push to persuade Pyongyang to end its nuclear weapons program, adding that “sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached.”

Trump has previously ridiculed Kim as “Little Rocket Man”, slapping wide-ranging sanctions on  Pyongyang and also leading a drive for international sanctions through the United Nations.

Pyongyang’s program to develop nuclear weapons began in the 1990s and has frustrated successive US administrations.

The United States and North Korea were foes throughout the Cold War and fought on opposite sides of the Korean War from 1950 to 1953.

Nearly 25,000 US military personnel are stationed in South Korea just below the border with North Korea.

Bill Richardson, US ambassador to the United Nations under Bill Clinton’s presidency and a veteran negotiator with North Korea, said the break with previous US policy carried huge risks but was worth a shot.

“I’m on the side of the big gamble. The North Korean situation, the tension in the peninsula has been so intense, this is the worst state of US-North Korea relations, that you almost need a Hail Mary pass,” he told CNN.

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