As South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in prepares to meet his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-Un this week with the hopes of agreeing substantive steps towards denuclearisation, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Russia of actively working to undermine international sanctions aimed at curbing the kingdom’s weapons program.
With Mr Moon headed to Pyongyang on Tuesday for the third inter-Korea talks, the US secretary of state said Russia had wakened the UN Security Council resolutions over sanctions and tried to cover up its actions.
"Russia has actively attempted to undermine the UN Security Council resolutions, the work of the ... committee at the UN that evaluates compliance with sanctions," Mr Pompeo told a news briefing at the State Department on Friday.
Mr Pompeo spoke after US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley accused Moscow on Thursday of seeking to cover up breaches of UN sanctions on North Korea by Russians by pushing for changes to an independent report on sanctions violations.
The top American diplomat said he hoped the UN sanctions committee would "publish the original document that they intended to publish, which shows clear activities related to sanctions and sanctions violations.
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"The United States is as committed as ever to continuing to enforce those UN Security Council resolutions. We believe they are central to President Trump’s efforts to convince Chairman Kim that full, final denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is necessary," he said.
Pompeo added that the United States was continuing to have "many conversations" with the North Koreans about "how to effectuate achieving all of the commitments made" at a June 12 summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader.
The UN Security Council will meet on Monday over the implementation of sanctions on North Korea at the request of Washington.
Despite the hard stance on sanctions, there has been speculation that US President Donald Trump be planning a second face-to-face meeting with Mr Kim after repeated comments about further in-person talks. The upcoming UN general assembly, that will see world leaders gather in New York to address the international community, could prove the perfect opportunity for Mr Trump although, given the logistics that go into such a summit, analysts have downplayed the prospects.
However, Mr Trump’s counterpart in Seoul is preparing further talks after a rapid warming of relations in recent months. The first inter-Korean summit of 2018, a sunny spectacle in late April, reduced war fears on the peninsula. The second, an emergency one in May, helped ensure the historic meeting between North Mr Kim and Mr Trump.
But on Tuesday Mr Moon could be facing his toughest challenge yet – agreeing something substantive that goes beyond previous vague statements on denuclearization and helps get US-North Korea talks back on track.
The failure to see much tangible action so far has led to questions of whether Mr Kim is truly willing to relinquish his nuclear arsenal.
"The third summit will bring more clarity to what North Korea means with the complete denuclearization of the peninsula," said Kim Taewoo, former president of Seoul's government-funded Korea Institute for National Unification. "If the North has been negotiating with goodwill all this time, Moon will be able to return with good results. But, regrettably, I see that possibility as low."
He said it will be crucial for Mr Moon to get Mr Kim to give a clearer signal that he is willing to accept credible actions.
The issue of declaring a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War will be high on the agenda in Pyongyang. The fighting stopped with an armistice that has left the peninsula technically at war.
Both Koreas are calling for a declaration by the end of the year, but the U.S. wants to see more concrete steps toward denuclearization first, and some analysts say a declaration could put pressure on the U.S. to withdraw its troops from South Korea.