By Johan Ahlander and Philip O’Connor
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – North Korea’s top negotiator said late on Saturday that working-level nuclear talks in Sweden between officials from Pyongyang and Washington had been broken off, dashing prospects for an end to months of stalemate.
The North’s chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Myong Gil, who spent much of the day in talks with an American delegation, cast the blame on what he portrayed as U.S. inflexibility, saying the other side’s negotiators would not “give up their old viewpoint and attitude”.
“The negotiations have not fulfilled our expectation and finally broke off,” Kim told reporters outside the North Korean Embassy, speaking through an interpreter.
“The U.S. raised expectations by offering suggestions like a flexible approach, new method and creative solutions, but they have disappointed us greatly and dampened our enthusiasm for negotiation by bringing nothing to the negotiation table,” he said.
There was no immediate response from the U.S. delegation. Swedish broadcaster TV4 reported that the U.S. Special Representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, who led the U.S. team, had arrived back at the country’s embassy in central Stockholm.
The Swedish foreign ministry declined to comment.
The meeting at an isolated conference centre on the outskirts of Stockholm was the first formal working-level discussion since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in June and agreed to restart negotiations that stalled after a failed summit in Vietnam in February.
Since June American officials had struggled to persuade North Korea to return to the table, but that appeared to change this week when North Korea abruptly announced that it had agreed to hold talks.
On Saturday evening, negotiator Kim Myong Gil accused the United States of having no intention of solving the countries’ difficulties through dialogue, but said a complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula was still possible.
However, he said it would only happen “when all the obstacles that threaten our safety and check our development are removed completely without a shadow of doubt”.
This appeared to be a reference to North Korea’s desire to see moves from Washington to ease economic pressure on it.
The delegation from North Korea, also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which is under sanctions banning much of its trade due to its nuclear programme, arrived in Sweden on Thursday.
Analysts have said the leaders of both countries faced growing incentives to reach a deal, although it was unclear whether common ground could be found after months of tension and deadlock.
Only a day after announcing the new talks, North Korea said it had test-fired a new ballistic missile designed for submarine launch, a provocative gesture that also underscored the need for Washington to move quickly to negotiate limits on Pyongyang’s growing arsenal.
Speaking in Athens on the last leg of a tour of southern Europe while the talks were still underway in Stockholm, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said he was hopeful of progress in the talks.
“We are mindful this will be the first time that we’ve had a chance to have a discussion in quite some time and that there remains to be a lot of work that will have to be done by the two teams,” he told a news conference.
(Reporting by Anna Ringstrom, Johan Ahlander, Simon Johnson, Niklas Pollard and Philip O’Connor in Stockholm; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Michele Kambas in Athens; Joori Roh in Seoul; Writing by Niklas Pollard; Editing by Alexander Smith, William Maclean, Hugh Lawson and Frances Kerry)