North Korea will only receive sanction relief once its government takes "verifiable and irreversible steps to denuclearization," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Sunday.
The Trump administration official painted a far-from-rosy picture of negotiations with Pyongyang during a security summit in Singapore on Sunday, stressing that the U.S. will not budge on its harsh economic penalties on North Korea until the country demonstrates its commitment to denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.
"We must remain vigilant, and we will continue to implement all U.N. Security Council resolutions on North Korea," Mattis said while speaking along South Korean and Japanese defense officials at Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual international forum on security attended by top government officials and academics. "North Korea will receive relief only when it demonstrates verifiable and irreversible steps to denuclearization."
He added that "we can anticipate, at best, a bumpy road to the negotiation" with Pyongyang and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, whom President Donald Trump has both publicly praised and mocked in recent months.
The remarks came two days after Trump announced his historic summit with Kim in Singapore on June 12 is back on following a series of meetings with North Korea officials in the U.S. Trump met with Kim Yong Chol, Kim Jong Un‘s second in command, in the Oval Office on Friday, after which he declared, "We‘ll be meeting on June 12 in Singapore."
A week prior, the president had scrapped plans for the gathering, the culmination of months of diplomatic work by Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other Trump administration officials, citing increasingly hostile rhetoric from Kim. Despite reviving the scheduled meeting on Friday, Trump emphasized that the U.S. did not intend to make any firm commitments come June.
“It‘s a process. ... We're not going to go in and sign something on June 12 and we never will,“ the president said. “We‘re going to start a process.“
Trump told reporters he discussed sanctions with Kim Jong Un's No. 2. But the president wavered when asked if the U.S. would maintain its maximum pressure campaign on Pyongyang, asserting its actions toward North Korea would not change while dialing down the language his administration has deployed in recent months.
“It's going to remain what it is now,” the president said of his administration's pressure on Pyongyang. “I don‘t even want to use the term maximum pressure anymore because I don‘t want to use that term. Because, we‘re getting along. You see the relationship. We‘re getting along. So it‘s not a question of maximum pressure.“
While alluding to the possibility of future sanction relief for North Korea, Mattis shot down the possibility of the U.S. reducing its military presence in the region, as Pyongyang has previously suggested.
"One thing that keeps coming up is about our troop strength on the peninsula," Mattis told reporters later Sunday during a gaggle en route back to Washington. "I'll say it again, I'm not making news here, the same thing -- we're not going anywhere. It's not even a subject of the discussions."