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US: No Phased Approach to North Korea Denuclearization

The United States will not agree to a phased approach to North Korea’s denuclearization, the top U.S. envoy to Pyongyang said Monday.

“We are not going to do denuclearization incrementally,” Steve Biegun told a nuclear policy conference in Washington. “The president has been clear on that and that is a position around which the U.S. government has complete unity.”

The comments are the latest evidence the U.S. is hardening its public position following a meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that failed to result in a deal.

Before the summit, U.S. officials had suggested they were open to a phased approach, whereby North Korea would give up its nuclear weapons in stages as the U.S. takes corresponding measures.

Biegun on Monday said the U.S. would not lift sanctions until North Korea “completes the denuclearization process,” though he did say there are “other areas outside lifting sanctions” that the U.S. could offer.

North Korea is seeking sanctions relief before it takes any further steps to dismantle its nuclear program.

Missile test?

Since the Hanoi summit, U.S. officials have threatened to expand sanctions, while commercial satellite images suggest Pyongyang could be preparing a missile test or satellite launch.

Trump has said he would be disappointed if North Korea fired a rocket or missile. But Biegun downplayed the importance of the satellite images showing the North Korean activity.

“We don’t know that it’s meant to send any particular statement to us,” Biegun said.

Commercial satellite imagery suggests North Korea has rebuilt parts of a satellite launching station and has increased activity at a site used to assemble ballistic missiles.

In the past, such activity was a sign North Korea was preparing to launch a rocket or missile. Analysts have said the North could be threatening a test in an attempt to improve its bargaining position.

 

U.N. sanctions ban North Korea from conducting ballistic missile tests. Although Pyongyang insists its satellite launches are part of a peaceful space program, the U.S. views the satellite launches as thinly disguised tests of missile technology.

 

North Korea has not conducted a missile or nuclear test since late 2017. At the Hanoi summit, Trump said Kim promised him that North Korea would not resume the testing.  

 

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