By Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean state media called on Monday for the United States to drop sanctions, saying Pyongyang had demonstrated good faith by ending its nuclear weapons testing and handing over the remains of U.S. troops killed in the Korean War.
The statements came just days after a confidential United Nations report concluded North Korea has not stopped its nuclear and missile programmes, in breach of U.N. resolutions.
North Korea and the United States vowed to work to end Pyongyang’s weapons programmes at a landmark summit in June in Singapore, but have struggled to reach an agreement to accomplish that goal.
The North’s state media accused Washington of “acting opposite” to its plan to improve ties, despite Pyongyang making goodwill gestures, including a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests, the dismantling of a nuclear site, and the return of the remains of U.S. soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War.
Such “practical measures” had already deprived U.N. Security Council resolutions of their reason for being, said the Rodong Sinmun, a ruling Workers’ Party mouthpiece.
“There have been outrageous arguments coming out of the U.S. State Department that it won’t ease sanctions until a denuclearisation is completed, and reinforcing sanctions is a way to raise its negotiating power,” the newspaper said in an editorial.
“How could the sanctions, which were a stick the U.S. administration had brandished as part of its hostile policy against us, promote the two countries’ amity?”
The editorial, which was run along with front page articles and photos of leader Kim Jong Un’s visit to a catfish farm in a display of his shift in focus to the economy, was a fresh sign of Pyongyang’s frustration over the slow-moving nuclear negotiations.
Under U.S. President Donald Trump, the United States pushed the United Nations to impose tough sanctions on North Korea as Kim conducted a string of missile and nuclear tests last year.
At a security forum on Saturday, the two sides sparred over the Singapore agreement, with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling for maintaining sanctions against Pyongyang, and his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho, criticising Washington for “retreating” from ending the war during a speech.
Pompeo suggested the North’s continued work on its weapons programmes was inconsistent with Kim’s commitment to denuclearise, although he expressed optimism the process would be achieved.
North Korea’s propaganda websites on Monday also urged the United States to drop sanctions and build trust.
One outlet, Uriminzokkiri, lambasted the sanctions and pressure campaign as “anachronistic” and a hurdle for better relations, calling for efforts to officially declare an end to the Korea War.
The Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the U.S.-led United Nations forces, including South Korea, technically still at war with the North.
The State Department has said it is committed to building a peace mechanism to replace the armistice, but only after the North abandons its nuclear programme.
Maeri, another North Korean outlet, stressed the need for U.S. action to build confidence in response to the North’s moves to close its weapons programmes and send back the soldiers’ remains.
“It takes two to tango,” the website said.
A spokesman for South Korea’s presidential Blue House told reporters on Monday: “We would want North Korea to speed up denuclearisation, and the United States to show a sincere attitude toward what North Korea demands as corresponding action.”
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin.; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)