North Korea’s lead negotiator has said that working-level nuclear talks in Sweden between officials from Pyongyang and Washington have broken off, dashing prospects for an end to months of stalemate.
The North’s chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Myong-gil, who spent much of Saturday in Stockholm talks with an American delegation, cast the blame on what he portrayed as US 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 on Saturday night, speaking through an interpreter.
The US state department said those comments did not reflect “the content or spirit” of more than eight hours of talks, and Washington had accepted Sweden’s invitation to return to Stockholm for more discussions with Pyongyang in two weeks.
“The US brought creative ideas and had good discussions with its [North Korea] counterparts,” spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.
She said the US delegation had previewed a number of new initiatives that would pave the way for progress in the talks, and said the two sides would not overcome “70 years of war and hostility in one day”.
North Korea’s Kim downplayed the US gestures, saying they had “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”.
Swedish broadcaster TV4 reported that the US special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, who led the US team, had arrived back at the country’s embassy in central Stockholm.
The Swedish foreign office declined to give any details on the invitation for new talks, or whether Pyongyang had accepted.
The meeting at an isolated conference centre on the outskirts of Stockholm was the first formal working-level discussion since US 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, US officials had struggled to persuade North Korea to return to the table, but that appeared to change this week when North Korea abruptly announced it had agreed to hold talks.
It also followed North Korea’s testing of a ballistic missile from a submarine on Wednesday.
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.
Jenny Town, a managing editor at 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea project, said the readout from the talks did not sound very promising.
“I think [North Korea’s] expectations were too high that the removal of Bolton would provide more flexibility on what the US wants as initial steps,” said Town. “While certainly it removes some pressure for an all or nothing deal, it seems the gap between what the two sides want as a baseline and are willing to reciprocate still has not narrowed.”