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Kim Jong Un rethinks US nuclear talks, pause in missile tests

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Kim Jong Un will soon decide whether to halt nuclear disarmament talks with the US, a top North Korean diplomat said, in the latest sign of fallout from his failed summit with President Donald Trump last month.

[SEOUL] Kim Jong Un will soon decide whether to halt nuclear disarmament talks with the US, a top North Korean diplomat said, in the latest sign of fallout from his failed summit with President Donald Trump last month.

Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui told reporters and diplomats Friday in Pyongyang that North Korea blamed the US's "gangster-like" demands for the breakdown in talks, according to the Associated Press. Mr Choe said Kim would clarify his position on whether to continue his 15-month freeze on bomb and missile tests "in a short period of time," the AP reported.

"I want to make it clear that the gangster-like stand of the US will eventually put the situation in danger," Mr Choe said, according to the AP. "We have neither the intention to compromise with the US in any form nor much less the desire or plan to conduct this kind of negotiation."

Asked about Mr Choe's comments, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo struck a conciliatory tone, saying the US hoped to keep talking with North Korea.

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"She left open the possibility that negotiations would continue," Mr Pompeo told reporters Friday. "It's the administration's desire that we continue to have conversations around this."

The future of nuclear talks between the two sides have been in limbo since Trump decided to walk away from a Feb 28 meeting in Hanoi without an agreement to reduce Mr Kim's arsenal. Each side has blamed the other, with the US saying North Korea demanded too much sanctions relief and Pyongyang faulting Washington for rejecting its promises to reduce its nuclear program.

The North Korean statements will likely fuel speculation that Kim might reconsider his halt on weapons tests, something Mr Trump has touted as one of his administration's top foreign policy achievements. Even after the Hanoi summit collapsed, the US announced it would end two major annual military drills with South Korea, a move many analysts viewed as a concession to Mr Kim.

Since then, however, analysis of commercial satellite imagery has signaled new activity at high-profile missile sites - something Mr Choe declined to explain Friday, according to the AP.

As with previous North Korean complaints about talks with the Trump administration, Mr Choe made an effort to separate the president from his top aides. While she touted the "mysteriously wonderful" chemistry between the two leaders, she faulted Mr Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton with upending talks.

"This time we understood very clearly that the United States has a very different calculation to ours," Mr Choe said, according to the AP. North Korea also called the US "gangster-like" after a fraught visit by Mr Pompeo in July.

"I have a vague recollection of being called gangster-like from a visit that I took one time previously and following that we continued to have very professional conversations," Mr Pompeo said in response. "I have every expectation that we'll be able to continue to do that."

The threat to reconsider talks is consistent with Mr Kim's warnings before deciding to hold the second summit with Mr Trump. In a televised New Year's address, Mr Kim threatened to take a "new path" if Washington didn't relax crippling economic sanctions.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in's office said in response to Mr Choe's comments that his government would support the reopening of US-North Korean talks "under any circumstances."

Mr Trump had said in Hanoi that Mr Kim insisted that sanctions be completely lifted. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho disputed Mr Trump's claim, saying the regime only asked that UN sanctions imposed during 2016 and 2017 be lifted.

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