U.S., North Korea Move Forward with Nuclear Talks, Disarmament May Be Obstacle

Thursday marked the second day of nuclear weapons talks between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korea’s Kim Yong Chol, aimed at settling disagreements and setting the stage for a summit of the two nations’ leaders.

The first round of talks, which lasted for 90 minutes, was held privately in New York on Wednesday night, but no details were provided about the two men’s conversation.

The U.S. has been insisting for some time that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons program, while Pyongyang has been adamant it needs nuclear weapons for its own security, Reuters reports. Such differences over denuclearization may prove to be an obstacle in reaching a deal between the two sides only days before the planned Singapore summit on June 12 between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

Kim Yong Chol, Kim Jong-un’s right-hand man and vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, is the most senior North Korean official to meet top U.S. officials for talks in the United States in nearly two decades. His meetings with Pompeo follow talks the U.S. secretary of state held in North Korea in April and earlier in May.

North Korean and U.S. officials have been making efforts in the last few days to come to an agreement under which the regime would give up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for security assurances and relief of sanctions from the U.S.

However, the pace of disarmament seems to be a problem as Washington wants a “complete” denuclearization as quickly as possible, while Pyongyang insists on a much slower process which will see concessions from both sides.

“The differences between North Korea and the U.S. remain quite significant. It won’t be easy to narrow the gap and find common ground but I think it would not be impossible,” South Korea’s unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, said in a speech to European diplomats in Seoul on Wednesday.

He further expressed skepticism about the North’s intentions’ sincerity but also said he was hopeful a breakthrough would happen because Pyongyang was willing to denuclearize.

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