SEOUL / WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The South Korean espionage agency has been monitoring preparations for international inspections by North Korea at several of its nuclear and missile testing sites, Yonhap news agency said Wednesday, citing a South Korean lawmaker.
FILE PHOTO: Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), along with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high-ranking officials, pass during a military parade on April 1
US officials refused to confirm the observations, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in Washington he plans to meet with his North Korean negotiator next week and talks to him about inspections.
Pompeo said in a radio interview that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to admit US inspectors to two "important" sites when he met him in Pyongyang this month.
"We hope to get you there soon," he told the Laura Ingraham Show. Pompeo did not identify the locations.
Kim Min-ki of South Korea's ruling Democratic Party told reporters earlier that the nation's national intelligence service had been watching North Koreans carry out "preparatory and reconnaissance activities that seem to be preparing for foreign inspectors to visit" at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site and the launch site of the Sohae Satellite.
Legislators added that no major movements were observed in Yongbyon, the northern most important nuclear complex.
North Korea discontinued nuclear and missile testing last year, but did not allow for international inspections of Punggye-ri's removal in May, criticizing the action as merely flaunting and reversing.
In September, Kim Jong Un also signed up with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to close Sohae and allow experts to watch the rocket engine test facility and a launch pad dismantle.
At the time, Moon stated that North Korea had agreed to allow international inspectors to observe a "permanent disassembly" of important missile installations and take further steps, such as the closure of Yongbyon, in return for US mutual action.
Washington has taken steps, such as the full disclosure of North's nuclear and missile facilities, before Pyongyang's main objectives are agreed.
American officials were skeptical of Kim's commitment to abandon nuclear weapons, but the promise of the North at the South Summit met with enthusiasm for a second meeting with President Donald Trump, who had met Kim at an unprecedented summit in June.
Inspecting a major construction project at a tourist resort in Wonsan, Kim told workers that such economic projects were a new "decisive battle" to support the ruling party and crack down on international sanctions against the North Korean nuclear program, state media said Thursday.
"Enemy powers are foolishly interested in malignant sanctions in order to engage with the promotion of human well-being and development, and to lead us to change and submission, but over time they will see clearly how our country is His strength, which defied hundreds of times, conquered his own country as a powerful nation of his own strength, technology and his own efforts, "he said in the Korean news agency.
Pompeo told Laura Ingraham that Washington hoped that the second summit would take place early next year, "where we can make a significant breakthrough if we reduce the nuclear threat from North Korea."
"There is still a lot to be done Chairman Kim has made it clear to me – as clearly as I speak to you, Laura – that he intends to make the one and we will do everything we can to help him fulfill that commitment. "
Pompeo did not name his colleague, but Kim Yong Chol, a close advisor to Kim Jong Un, has conducted past negotiations with him.
The US State Department declined to provide details, but the meeting is expected to take place in New York.
Also in Washington, South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said the United States and South Korea would make a decision in December on important joint military exercises for 2019.
Earlier this month, the two countries suspended Watchfulness Ace, one of several exercises that were held to promote dialogue.
"We are currently not worried about the loss of combat ability," said US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to reporters after meeting with his South Korean counterpart.
"As we progress, of course, we need to make adjustments to make sure we do not lose that ability. For the moment, however, this is not a complete suspension of all collaborations and military exercises, "Mattis added.
Reporting by Josh Smith; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney, James Dalgleish and Diane Craft