North Korea envoy headed to U.S. to meet Pompeo, possibly Trump: source

Senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol (R) arrives at the international airport as he leaves for Washington from Beijing, China January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee

By Matt Spetalnick and Joyce Lee

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – A North Korean envoy was headed for Washington on Thursday for expected talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a possible encounter with President Donald Trump to lay the groundwork for a second U.S.-North Korea summit, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Kim Yong Chol, Pyongyang’s lead negotiator in denuclearization talks with the United States, was due to meet Pompeo on Friday, the source said, the first major sign of potential movement in a diplomatic effort that had appeared stalled for months.

The North Korean visit could yield an announcement of plans for another summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who held a first meeting in June in Singapore, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

There has been no indication, however, of any narrowing of differences over U.S. demands that North Korea abandon a nuclear weapons program that threatens the United States or over Pyongyang’s demand for a lifting of punishing sanctions.

Kim Yong Chol boarded a flight in Beijing for Washington on Thursday and was expected to arrive in the U.S. capital in the early evening, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said earlier.

Pompeo had planned to meet his North Korean counterpart to discuss a second summit last November, but the meeting was postponed at the last moment.

Kim Yong Chol was last in Washington in June, when he delivered a letter from Kim Jong Un to Trump that opened the way for the June 12 Singapore summit.

Trump, who has been keen to hold a second summit despite a lack of obvious progress, could meet again with the North Korean envoy. While such an encounter was being discussed, it has not yet been confirmed, the person familiar with the matter said.

“We have no meetings to announce at this time,” a State Department spokesman said when asked about the expected North Korean visit.

“CONCRETE STEPS”

On Wednesday, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence acknowledged that efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear arsenal had not made headway.

“While the president is promising dialogue with Chairman Kim, we still await concrete steps by North Korea to dismantle the nuclear weapons that threaten our people and our allies in the region,” Pence said in an address to U.S. ambassadors and other senior American diplomats at the State Department.

CNN quoted a source familiar with the U.S.-North Korea talks as saying that Kim Yong Chol would be carrying a new letter from Kim Jong Un to Trump.

Chinese and South Korean envoys on Korean peninsula affairs met in Seoul on Thursday, South Korea’s foreign ministry said. Kong Xuanyou and Lee Do-Hoon were expected to have discussed ways to achieve denuclearization.

In Singapore last year, Kim Jong Un pledged in broad terms to work toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula but he has resisted any tangible moves in that direction.

Diplomatic contact was resumed after the North Korean leader delivered a New Year speech in which he said he was willing to meet Trump “at any time,” South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, Cho Yoon-je, told reporters last week.

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Nick Macfie and Phil Berlowitz)

U.S. to host Iran-focused global summit in Poland Feb. 13-14

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is greeted by Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa after arriving at Manama International Airport in Manama, Bahrain, Jan. 11, 2019. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States plans to jointly host a global summit focused on the Middle East, particularly Iran, next month in Poland, the U.S. State Department said on Friday.

The gathering will take place in Warsaw from Feb. 13 to Feb. 14, it said in a statement.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News in an interview to air on Friday that the meeting would “focus on Middle East stability and peace and freedom and security here in this region, and that includes an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence.”

Pompeo said the meeting would “bring together dozens of countries from all around the world, from Asia, from Africa, from Western Hemisphere countries, Europe too, the Middle East of course.”

The State Department did not immediately respond when asked which countries would attend. Its statement said there were strong shared interests in Middle East stability.

“The ministerial will address a range of critical issues including terrorism and extremism, missile development and proliferation, maritime trade and security, and threats posed by proxy groups across the region,” it said.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s top diplomat is visiting a number of Middle Eastern countries this week in an effort to shore up support in the region on a number of fronts, from the U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria to the Saudi-Qatar rift to the killing of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Pompeo, in the middle of his eight-day trip through the region, has said the United States is “redoubling” its efforts to put pressure on Iran and sought to convince allies in the region that it was committed to fighting Islamic State despite Trump’s recent decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.

Pompeo told Fox News the summit would include representatives from countries around the world to address Iran’s regional influence as the Trump administration has sought to pressure Tehran.

Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear accord and moved to reimpose sanctions on Tehran, even as other partners in the deal – including China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom – have sought to maintain the agreement.

In a shift earlier this week, the European Union moved to impose some sanctions on Iran.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and David Brunnstrom in Washington and Lesley Wroughton in Cairo; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Susan Thomas and Jonathan Oatis)

Iran confirms missile test in defiance of U.S.

FILE PHOTO: A display featuring missiles and a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is seen at Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran September 27, 2017. Picture taken September 27, 2017. Nazanin Tabatabaee Yazdi/TIMA via REUTERS

By Babak Dehghanpisheh

GENEVA (Reuters) – A senior Iranian military commander confirmed that Tehran recently carried out a ballistic missile test to the anger of the United States, the Fars news agency said on Tuesday.

The Revolutionary Guards official’s comment came after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s assertion earlier this month that Iran had test-fired a missile capable of carrying multiple warheads and reaching the Middle East and Europe.

“We will continue our missile tests and this recent action was an important test,” Guards’ airspace division head Amirali Hajizadeh was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency.

“The reaction of the Americans shows that this test was very important for them and that’s why they were shouting,” he added, without specifying what type of missile had been tested.

The U.N. Security Council met last week over the test that the United States, Britain and France said flouted U.N. restrictions on Tehran’s military program.

U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program in May and reimposed sanctions on Tehran. He said the deal was flawed because it did not include curbs on Iran’s development of ballistic missiles or its support for proxies in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.

Iran has ruled out negotiations with Washington over its military capabilities, particularly the missile program run by the Guards. It says the program is purely defensive and denies missiles are capable of being tipped with nuclear warheads.

Hajizadeh said Iran holds up to 50 missile tests a year.

“The issue of missiles has never been subject to negotiations and nothing has been approved or ratified about its prohibition for the Islamic Republic of Iran in (U.N.) resolution 2231,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tuesday, according to the Tasnim news agency.

“Our defense doctrine is basically founded upon deterrence.”

Under U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which enshrined the nuclear deal in 2015, Iran is “called upon” to refrain from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons for up to eight years.

Some states argue the language does not make it obligatory.

Last month, Hajizadeh said U.S. bases in Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, and U.S. aircraft carriers in the Gulf were within range of Iranian missiles.

In October, the Revolutionary Guards fired missiles at Islamic State militants in Syria after the Islamist group took responsibility for an attack at a military parade in Iran that killed 25 people, nearly half of them Guards members.

(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Andrew Cawthorne)

U.S. gives Russia 60 days to comply with nuclear treaty

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attends a news conference during the NATO foreign ministers' meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, December 4, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The United States delivered Russia a 60-day ultimatum on Tuesday to come clean about what Washington says is a violation of a arms control treaty that keeps missiles out of Europe, saying only Moscow could save the pact.

NATO allies led by Germany pressed U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a meeting in Brussels to give diplomacy a final push before Washington pulls out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, fearing a new arms race in Europe.

“Russia has a last chance to show in a verifiable way that they comply with the treaty … but we also have to start to prepare for the fact that this treaty may break down,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.

NATO foreign ministers agreed to formally declare Russia in “material breach” of the INF treaty in a statement in support of the United States after Pompeo briefed them at the alliance headquarters in Brussels on Russian violations and on U.S. President Donald Trump’s stated aim to withdraw from it.

Russia denies undertaking any such development of land-based, intermediate-range Cruise missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads and hitting European cities at short notice.

Germany, the Netherlands and Belgian are concerned about the deployment of U.S. missiles in Europe – as happened in the 1980s, touching off large anti-American demonstrations – while being caught up in nuclear competition between Moscow and Washington.

A U.S. exit from the INF treaty would put another strain on NATO allies already shaken by Trump’s demands for higher defense spending and what diplomats say is a lack of clarity about where U.S. strategy is heading on the issue.

While Stoltenberg said there would now be an intense diplomatic push to try to convince Russia to give up what Pompeo said were “multiple battalions of the SSC-8 missiles”, Washington is set to start to pull out in February, prompting a six-month withdrawal period under the accord, diplomats said.

“Its range makes it a direct menace to Europe,” Pompeo said of the missiles, which also are called Novator 9M729. He added that Russia’s actions “greatly undermine America’s national security and that of our allies”.

Difficult to detect and fired from mobile launchers, the Russian missiles are especially dangerous because they reduce the warning time that NATO air defenses might have to shoot them down, military experts say.

Pompeo said the U.S. government had raised the issue at least 30 times since 2013 with Moscow but had faced what he said were denials and counter-actions.

He also said that the United States had evidence that the test launches were from a single site in Russia, the Soviet-era base Kupustin Yar, near Volgograd, southeast of Moscow.

“In the light of these facts, the United States declares Russia in material breach of the treaty and will suspend our obligations … effective in 60 days unless Russia returns to full and verifiable compliance,” Pompeo said.

EUROPE CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE

Washington has said it would be forced to restore the military balance in Europe after the 60-day period but Pompeo declined to elaborate, saying only that tests and deployments of new missiles were on hold until then.

He also said that because China, Iran and North Korea were not signatories to the INF, the United States was putting itself at a disadvantage by not developing medium-range missiles, citing three failed diplomatic attempts to enlarge the treaty.

However, experts believe the United States would be better off modernizing its long-range missile deterrent and ensuring that it could penetrate sophisticated Russian air defenses, rather than developing a new class of medium-range rockets.

The INF treaty, negotiated by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and ratified by the U.S. Senate, eliminated the medium-range missile arsenals of the world’s two biggest nuclear powers and reduced their ability to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.

U.S. Cruise and Pershing missiles deployed in Britain and West Germany were removed as a result of the treaty, while the Soviet Union pulled back its SS-20s out of European range.

The treaty requires the United States and Russia “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km (310-3,420 miles), “or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”

(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Downgrading U.S.-Saudi ties would be ‘grave mistake’: Pompeo

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pauses during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, U.S., November 20, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Doina Chiacu and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that downgrading U.S. ties with Saudi Arabia over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi would be a mistake for national security and would not push Saudis in a better direction at home.

After repeated calls from members of Congress for a strong U.S. response, Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis were briefing the U.S. Senate behind closed doors about Saudi Arabia and the Oct. 2 murder of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, as well as the civil war in Yemen.

In a blog post, Pompeo said: “The October murder of Saudi national Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey has heightened the Capitol Hill caterwauling and media pile-on. But degrading U.S.-Saudi ties would be a grave mistake for the national security of the U.S. and its allies,” Pompeo wrote.

In his remarks for the briefing, which were released as it got underway, Mattis said that pulling back U.S. military support in Yemen and stopping weapons sales to important partners would be misguided.

“Our security interests cannot be dismissed, even as we seek accountability for what President (Donald) Trump described as the “unacceptable and horrible crime” of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, a crime which “our country does not condone,” Mattis said in his prepared remarks.

Pompeo made the case that the Saudis are too important an ally to lose, citing the country’s help to contain Iran in the region, secure democracy in Iraq and fight the Islamic State and other militant groups.

“The kingdom is a powerful force for stability in the Middle East,” he wrote. “Saudi Arabia, like the U.S. – and unlike these critics – recognizes the immense threat the Islamic Republic of Iran poses to the world.”

Pompeo also said the United States would provide an additional $131 million for food aid in Yemen.

The nearly four-year-long war in Yemen, which has killed more than 10,000 people and triggered the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis, is seen as a proxy war between Saudia Arabia and Iran.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)

Trump says it looks like Saudi journalist Khashoggi is dead

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks after his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Jeff Mason and Bulent Usta

WASHINGTON/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Thursday he presumes journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead and that the U.S. response to Saudi Arabia will likely be “very severe” but that he still wanted to get to the bottom of what exactly happened.

In Istanbul, Turkish investigators for a second time searched the Saudi consulate where Khashoggi – a U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist who was a strong critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – vanished on Oct. 2, seeking clues about an incident that has caused an international outcry.

Trump acknowledged for the first time that Khashoggi had likely been killed.

“It certainly looks that way to me. It’s very sad,” Trump told reporters before boarding Air Force One on a political trip.

Trump spoke hours after getting an update from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the results of Pompeo’s emergency talks in Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Pompeo told reporters after his meeting that he advised Trump that Saudi Arabia should be given a few more days to complete its investigation into the Khashoggi disappearance. Turkish officials have said they believe the Saudi journalist was murdered at the consulate and his body chopped up and removed.

Trump said he was waiting for the results so that “we can get to the bottom of this very soon” and that he would be making a statement about it at some point.

Asked what would be the consequences for Saudi Arabia, Trump said: “Well, it’ll have to be very severe. I mean, it’s bad, bad stuff. But we’ll see what happens.”

Saudi Arabia has denied involvement in the disappearance.

The United States considers Riyadh a linchpin in efforts to contain Iran’s regional influence and a key global oil source, and Trump has shown no inclination to mete out harsh punishment to the Saudis.

Referring to the Saudis, Pompeo said he told Trump “we ought to give them a few more days to complete” their investigation in order to get a full understanding of what happened, “at which point we can make decisions about how – or if – the United States should respond to the incident surrounding Mr. Khashoggi.”

By casting doubt on whether the United States will respond at all, Pompeo reflected the internal struggle among Trump and his national security advisers on what to do should the Saudi leadership be blamed for what happened to Khashoggi.

“I think it’s important for us all to remember, too – we have a long, since 1932, a long strategic relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Pompeo told reporters after meeting with Trump, also calling Saudi Arabia “an important counterterrorism partner.”

In addition, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin abandoned plans to attend an investor conference in Riyadh, putting the high-profile event in question.

Mnuchin became the latest Western official to pull out of the investment conference in Riyadh scheduled for Oct. 23-25, joining a list of international officials and business executives. Earlier on Thursday, senior government ministers from France, Britain and the Netherlands withdrew, too.

As of Thursday, the conference was still going on. The spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which is hosting the event, was not immediately available for comment. The organizers could not be reached for comment.

(Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun, Umit Ozdal, Yesim Dikmen and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Istanbul, John Irish and Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris, Bart Meijer in Amsterdam, Alistair Smout and Kylie MacLellan in London and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Steve Holland, Daren Butler and Stephen Kalin; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Will Dunham and Yara Bayoumy)

U.S. to merge Jerusalem consulate in to new embassy

FILE PHOTO: U.S. marines take part in the dedication ceremony of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States will merge the U.S. Consulate General, which serves Palestinians, with its new embassy into a single diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday.

“This decision is driven by our global efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations,” Pompeo said in a statement. “It does not signal a change of U.S. policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Gaza Strip.”

The consulate-general in Jerusalem is the top mission for Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem for their capital.

“We will continue to conduct a full range of reporting, outreach, and programming in the West Bank and Gaza as well as with Palestinians in Jerusalem through a new Palestinian Affairs Unit inside U.S. Embassy Jerusalem,” Pompeo said.

He said the Trump administration was committed to a peace effort between Israel and the Palestinians.

U.S. President Donald Trump outraged the Arab world and stoked international concern by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December and moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest disputes between Israel and the Palestinians and Palestinian leaders accused Trump of sowing instability by overturning decades of U.S. policy.

Palestinians, with broad international backing, seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they want to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Israel regards all of the city, including the eastern sector it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed, as its “eternal and indivisible capital,” but that is not recognized internationally. The Trump administration has avoided that description, and noted that the city’s final borders should be decided by the parties.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Exclusive: Turkey’s Erdogan says court will decide fate of detained U.S. pastor

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 25, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Stephen Adler and Parisa Hafezi

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said a Turkish court, not politicians, will decide the fate of an American pastor whose detention on terrorism charges has hit relations between Ankara and Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday he was hopeful Turkey would release evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson this month. The preacher was moved to house arrest in July after being detained for 21 months.

In an interview with Reuters late on Tuesday while he was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly meetings, Erdogan said any decision on Brunson would be made by the court.

“This is a judiciary matter. Brunson has been detained on terrorism charges … On Oct. 12 there will be another hearing and we don’t know what the court will decide and politicians will have no say on the verdict,” Erdogan said.

If found guilty, Brunson could be jailed for up to 35 years. He denies the charges. “As the president, I don’t have the right to order his release. Our judiciary is independent. Let’s wait and see what the court will decide,” Erdogan said.

U.S. President Donald Trump, infuriated by Brunson’s detention, authorized a doubling of duties on aluminum and steel imported from Turkey in August. Turkey retaliated by increasing tariffs on U.S. cars, alcohol and tobacco imports.

The Turkish lira has lost nearly 40 percent of its value against the dollar this year on concerns over Erdogan’s grip on monetary policy and the diplomatic dispute between Ankara and Washington.

“The Brunson case is not even closely related to Turkey’s economy. The current economic challenges have been exaggerated more than necessary and Turkey will overcome these challenges with its own resources,” Erdogan said.

Turkey’s central bank raised its benchmark rate by a hefty 625 basis points this month, boosting the lira and possibly easing investor concern over Erdogan’s influence on monetary policy. Erdogan said he was against the measure.

“It shows the central bank is independent. As the president, I am against high-interest rates and I am repeating my stance here again,” he said, adding that high rates “primarily scare away investors”.

“This was a decision made by the central bank … I hope and pray that their expectations will be met because high rates lead to high inflation. I hope the other way around will happen this time.”

The lira firmed slightly on Wednesday morning after Erdogan’s assurance on the independence of the central bank was published.

IMPROVING TIES

In an effort to boost the economy and attract investors, Erdogan will travel on Sept. 28 to Germany, a country that is home to millions of Turks.

“We want to completely leave behind all the problems and to create a warm environment between Turkey and Germany just like it used to be,” Erdogan said, adding that he will meet Chancellor Angela Merkel during his visit.

The two NATO members have differed over Turkey’s crackdown on suspected opponents of Erdogan after a failed coup in 2016 and over its detention of German citizens.

On Syria, Erdogan said it was impossible for Syrian peace efforts to continue with President Bashar al-Assad in power.

Earlier this month, Turkey and Russia reached an agreement to enforce a new demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib region from which “radical” rebels will be required to withdraw by the middle of next month.

But Erdogan said the withdrawal of “radical groups” had already started.

“This part of Syria will be free of weapons which is the expectation of the people of Idlib … who welcomed this step,” he said. The demilitarized zone will be patrolled by Turkish and Russian forces.

Close to 3 million people live in Idlib, around half of them displaced by the war from other parts of Syria.

Erdogan said Turkey will continue to buy natural gas from Iran in line with its long-term supply contract despite Trump’s threats to punish countries doing business with Iran.

“We need to be realistic … Am I supposed to let people freeze in winter? …Nobody should be offended. How can I heat my people’s homes if we stop purchasing Iran’s natural gas?,” he said.

Trump pulled the United States out of a 2015 multinational nuclear deal with Iran and in August Washington reimposed sanctions on Tehran, lifted in 2016 under the pact. U.S. sanctions on Iran’s energy sector are set to be re-imposed in November.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Andrew Heavens)

Trump says expects announcement of new summit with North Korea’s Kim ‘pretty soon’

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a bilateral meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York, U.S., September 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Jeff Mason and David Brunnstrom

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he expected a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to be announced “pretty soon” but that the location had yet to be determined.

Trump, during a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the United Nations, said: “Chairman Kim has been really very open and terrific, frankly. I think he wants to see something happen.”

Moon met with Kim for a third time last week. He said brought Trump a personal message from the North Korean leader saying he was hoping to meet with the U.S. president again soon.

Trump and Kim met for an unprecedented summit on June 12, and Trump has been keen on a second meeting, even though some U.S. officials and most analysts say Pyongyang has yet to show it is prepared to give up a nuclear arsenal that threatens the United States.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a news briefing earlier on Monday he hoped to travel back to North Korea before the end of the year to make final preparations for a second summit, which he said he was “confident” would happen.

“I expect I’ll be traveling to Pyongyang before too long,” he said.

Asked if that would be before the end of the year, he replied: “Yes. Lord willing, I’ll be traveling before the end of the year.”

Pompeo said he was optimistic that Kim would deliver on his pledge to denuclearize, but this would take time.

“We’re bringing the two senior leaders, the individuals who can actually make the decisions that will move this process forward, bring them together so we can continue to make progress towards what the U.N. Security Council has demanded and what Chairman Kim has promised he would do.

“That’s the effort. There remains work to be done. There will be some time before we get to complete denuclearization for sure.”

At last week’s meeting with Moon, Kim promised to dismantle a missile site and also a nuclear complex – if the United States took “corresponding action.”

However, while appearing to set a positive tone, the commitments fell far short of Washington’s demands for a complete inventory of North Korea’s weapons programs and irreversible steps toward denuclearization.

The mood though is sharply changed from that at last year’s U.N. General Assembly, when Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea and mocked the North Korean leader as “Rocket Man” on a “suicide mission.”

North Korea’s representative to the meeting, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, responded to Trump’s U.N. remarks last year by calling them “the sound of a dog barking” and warning that North Korea could detonate a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific.

Pompeo has proposed a meeting with Ri at the General Assembly this week. U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said last week the two had agreed to meet but said the meeting could take place later.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and David Brunnstrom; additional reporting by David Alexander and Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Doina Chiacu and James Dalgleish)

North Korea tells U.S. denuclearization talks may fall apart

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump addresses members of his cabinet and the news media as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looks on during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean officials have warned in a letter to the United States that denuclearization talks were “again at stake and may fall apart”, CNN reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

The letter was delivered directly to U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and stated that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s government felt that the process could not move forward.

“The U.S. is still not ready to meet (North Korean) expectations in terms of taking a step forward to sign a peace treaty,” CNN reported, citing sources.

The 1950-1953 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving U.S.-led U.N. forces technically still at war with North Korea.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un leave after signing documents that acknowledge the progress of the talks and pledge to keep momentum going, after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un leave after signing documents that acknowledge the progress of the talks and pledge to keep momentum going, after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

The North has long made clear that it sees an official end to the state of war as crucial to lowering tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The United States has been reluctant to declare an end to the Korean War until after North Korea abandons its nuclear weapons program.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that U.S. President Donald Trump called off a visit to North Korea by Pompeo after the latter received a belligerent letter from a senior North Korean official just hours after the trip was announced last week.

CNN reported that the letter was sent by the former head of North Korea’s spy agency, Kim Yong Chol, but it was not known how it was sent. The Washington Post said North Korea had been increasingly communicating through its U.N. mission.

CNN reported that the letter also mentioned that if a compromise could not be reached and the nascent talks crumble, North Korea could resume “nuclear and missile activities”.

‘PLOT’

On Sunday, North Korea’s state media accused the United States of “double-dealing” and “hatching a criminal plot” but did not mention Pompeo’s canceled visit.

The Washington Post said the exact contents of the message were unclear, but it was sufficiently belligerent that Trump and Pompeo decided to call off the planned trip.

The trip had been announced the previous day for this week and Pompeo had intended to introduce a newly named special envoy, Stephen Biegun, to his North Korean counterparts.

The White House referred queries on the Washington Post report to the State Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In canceling Pompeo’s trip, Trump publicly acknowledged for the first time that his effort to get North Korea to denuclearize had stalled since his June 12 summit with Kim in Singapore.

U.S. intelligence and defense officials have repeatedly expressed doubts about North Korea’s willingness to give up its nuclear weapons and they had not expected Pompeo’s trip to yield positive results.

A South Korea presidential spokesman said he was not in a position to comment on the authenticity of the letter but acknowledged that talks between Washington and Pyongyang were in a stalemate.

“With North Korea and the U.S. remaining stalemated, there is an even bigger need for an inter-Korea summit,” Kim Eui-kyeom, a spokesman for the presidential Blue House told a briefing.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said this month his planned third summit with North Korea’s Kim next month would be another step towards the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and an end to the Korean War.

(Reporting by Mekhla Raina in BENGALURU, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON, Cynthia Kim in SEOUL; Editing by Peter Cooney, Robert Birsel)