LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
And now to elsewhere in Asia. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is keeping a hopeful outlook after two days of talks in Pyongyang, that despite North Korea's statement that came within hours of Pompeo leaving, which called the visit regrettable and said the U.S. acted gangster-like in its demands. The secretary responded to that criticism today, speaking to reporters in Japan.
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MIKE POMPEO: I am counting on Chairman Kim to be determined to follow through on the commitment that he made. And so if those requests were gangster-like, they are - the world is a gangster because there was a unanimous decision at the U.N. Security Council about what needs to be achieved.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: For the latest on where the diplomacy with North Korea is at, NPR's Elise Hu joins us now from Seoul. Hey, Elise.
ELISE HU, BYLINE: Hey, there.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what is the divide that's opening up between the U.S. and North Korea?
HU: Well, it's all over how North Korea and the U.S. have differing takes on Pyongyang's latest pledge to scale back its nuclear program. The U.S. and North Korea both agreed to this term complete denuclearization when President Trump and Kim Jong Un signed that Singapore agreement. But that's really broad, and North Korea has made more specific denuclearization agreements before only to walk them back or start testing again or not letting inspectors to verify what it was doing. Now there are satellite imagery that's already showing North Korea is upgrading its nuclear and ballistic facilities after the June agreement with Trump. But Secretary Pompeo is still insisting that progress was made over the weekend. He called the negotiations good-faith, productive conversations which will continue.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I guess the devil is in the detail, and that was always the concern - right? - that this meeting between President Trump that happened in Singapore with North Korea's leader was simply kind of the dessert coming before the main meal, which is actually a negotiation. So what's the next move for the United States?
HU: So far the president himself has not commented or tweeted on the talks. And policy-wise, the U.S. secretary of state says the U.S. is not going to lift economic pressure on North Korea until North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Secretary Pompeo also encouraged other countries to stay the course on sanctions since the international community is involved here. But already, Lulu, there's a softening in the region. Sources indicate China has already relaxed sanctions implementation, which then weakens that sanctions card overall.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what does that mean exactly when you say that there's a softening in the region, that people are already taking it for granted that there is a negotiation underway and they're kind of not pressuring North Korea as much as they might have been?
HU: That's right. And for its part, China, there's evidence that it's just not enforcing sanctions on North Korea in the way that it did when it sort of toughened things up in response to its long-range tests at the end of last year.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So that might suggest that actually the United States's position was made weaker. You are there in South Korea, and I'm curious what its outlook is on the situation.
HU: The South Korean presidential office is staying positive just like Secretary Pompeo. A spokesman said today that he believed President Trump and Kim would iron out the multiple problems that were always bound to arise during talks. They're saying this is kind of par for the course in difficult diplomatic negotiation. He also said that the two sides built trust in Singapore, which keeps President Moon Jae-in here in South Korea pretty hopeful.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Elise Hu in Seoul. Thank you so much.
HU: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.