Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shot back against North Korea on Sunday, saying the regime’s criticism that U.S. negotiators acted in a “gangster-like” way during his two-day visit to Pyongyang was unfounded.

“If those requests were gangster-like, the world is a gangster,” said Pompeo, noting that U.S. demands for North Korea to denuclearize were supported by a consensus among U.N. Security Council members.

The secretary of state also said that despite a critical statement released by North Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday night, he thought that the two sides had made progress during the meeting and that his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yong Chol, negotiated in “good faith” during the meeting.

Pompeo added that the United States and world powers would maintain economic sanctions against North Korea until full denuclearization was achieved.

America’s top diplomat was speaking in Tokyo, where he had met with the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea as well as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss the progress made during his trip to North Korea. Pompeo had visited the isolated nation Friday in a bid to further a recent denuclearization agreement.

As Pompeo left the North Korean capital Saturday, he told reporters that the trip had been “productive” and that progress had been made on a number of issues.


From left, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha at a news conference in Tokyo on July 8. (David Mareuil/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

However, the North Korean Foreign Ministry later released a lengthy statement that criticized the U.S. focus on nuclear weapons. “The U.S. side came up only with its unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization,” the North Korean statement said.

Pompeo played down North Korea’s criticism on Sunday, telling a reporter that Pyongyang did not have an issue with the idea of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization — a term better known by its initials, CVID — despite the North Korean Foreign Ministry singling out the phrase in its statement.

“It’s a broad definition,” Pompeo said. “The North Koreans understand that and have not challenged that.” 

Pompeo also said that the United States was working to ensure the security assurances that the North Koreans need to continue with denuclearization. “The economic sanctions are a different kettle of fish altogether,” he said. “The world will see continued enforcement efforts by the United States in the days and weeks ahead.”

Japan’s Abe had praised Pompeo for his strong leadership on the issue after speaking with the secretary of state on Sunday. “This really shows the unwavering bond of the Japan-U. S. alliance,” Abe said.

In South Korea, where President Moon Jae-in has emerged as a key facilitator of U.S.-North Korea talks, the government also suggested it was taking a cautiously optimistic view of events.

“The U.S.-N.K. talks held in Pyongyang this time marked the first step in a journey towards denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Kim Eui-keum, a presidential spokesman, told reporters Sunday. “As in our old saying: A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step. The start is the most important event in the whole process.”

Analysts said that North Korea’s statement was not unexpected but that there may indeed be a long way to go in U.S.-North Korea talks, as both sides were coming to the table with fundamentally different views of what they were bargaining with.

“These stumbling blocks and tactics are normal,” said Duyeon Kim, a fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum. “But Washington should not allow nuclear talks to be held hostage to peace talks, or else there could be peace with a nuclear-armed North Korea indefinitely.”

In Washington on Sunday, a leading Republican lawmaker blamed China for North Korea’s rhetoric.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s the Chinese pulling [the] North Koreans back,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) said in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” He said that Beijing was using negotiations with North Korea as a way to force the Trump administration to relent in a trade war, which has seen the United States and China impose tariffs on billions of dollars worth of each country’s goods.

“So, if I were President Trump, I would not let China use North Korea to back me off of the trade dispute,” Graham said. “We’ve got more bullets than they do when it comes to trade. We sell them $100 billion, they sell us $500 billion, we can hurt them more than they will hurt us.”

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said that the administration should be prepared to quickly resume joint military exercises with South Korea if there is not progress on the nuclear negotiations. Trump had ordered an end to those exercises, which he called “provocative” and too expensive, following his meeting in Singapore with the North Korean leader.

“Obviously I believe [the exercises] have a purpose in keeping the peninsula safe and making sure that should anything happen we are well rehearsed with our allies to engage,” Ernst said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “So I would say soon if we don’t see those talks continue.”

Min Joo Kim contributed to this report.