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Trump administration struggles for path forward on nuclear talks as tensions with North Korea mount

President Trump's claims that reduced tensions with North Korea from his personal diplomacy with Kim Jong showed progress toward a nuclear deal under Friday Friday as Pyongyang lashed out at the administration's "gangster-like" tactics and blamed his top aides for the failed summit last month.

The latest sign of mounting hostilities since disarmament talks collapsed in Hanoi, a top North Korean official also declared that leader Kim Jong Un is weighing cutting off bilateral dialogue with the United States. The threat came amid evidence that the regime had recently rebuilt a space-rocket and missile-launch site and raised about the future of the negotiations.

Deputy Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui emphasized at a news conference in Pyongyang that the two leaders maintain a good relationship after the summit ended without a deal. And U.S. Pat. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo played down tensions, responding in Washington that he expected the two sides to continue "very professional conversations."

Yet behind the scenes, Trump aides have struggled to articulate a path to the wide gaps between Washington's demands that the North fully dismantle its nuclear weapons program and Pyongyang's insistence that the United States easily puncture economic sanctions in exchange for incremental steps.

In a private briefing in Washington this week, one White House official duty foreign-policy analysts that Trump's Talks with Kim last time convinced the president that the regime is unwilling to surrender its nuclear program, said Sue Mi Terry, a Korea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who attended the briefing.

"What he was saying is that everybody knew North Korea would not give up its nukes, but Trump was not sure, ”she said. Trump finally gets that fact, and it's not easily solvable. ”That realization throws into question Trump's strategy of abandonment or precedent. administrations that rejected presidential-level talks, instead of engaging in direct negotiations with Kim ̵

1; without a clear road map for how a denuclearization process would work. Since their first summit in Singapore last June, there was little progress among working-level negotiators, and the Hanoi summit failed to punch through the fundamental disagreements.

Some foreign-policy experts suggested that the sharp language from Choe was typical of Pyongyang's negotiating tactics were aimed at gaining rather than scuttling talks. The vice minister accused Pompeo and national security advises John Bolton, both of whom accompanied Trump to Hanoi, of creating an atmosphere of "hostility and mistrust," but she did not directly criticize Trump.

"The chemistry is mysteriously wonderful," Choe said of Kim and Trump's relationship

Bolton called Choe's characterization of the Hanoi talks "inaccurate," while Pompeo noted that he had been the focus of North Korean umbrella after a trip to Pyongyang last July.

A White House spokesman declined to comment

Kim's efforts to make trump, which have included sending him flattering personal letters, could have diminishing returns, given the failure in Hanoi. U.S. officials said the president's willingness to walk away without a deal would help the administration's negotiating team, led by special envoy Stephen Biegun, who has been frustrated in working-level meetings with his counterparts in Pyongyang.

During an appearance this week at The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, emphasized that the administration would not lift the North completely dismantled by its nuclear program and ballistic missiles.

Asked whether Kim might resume missile testing after a 16-month moratorium, Biegun replied: short answer is: We don't know. What Kim Young Un will decide to do is very much his decision and his decision alone. ”

Trump said this month that he would be" very disappointed "if the North followed through with a test, after satellite images showed construction underway to rebuild the Sohae rocket launch facility

At a news conference in Hanoi, Trump said several times that Kim had promised him that he would maintain the testing freeze, which the president has cited as evidence that his negotiations have made progress even though North Korea went through longer moratoriums during past US administrative. As recently as February, Trump suggested that he should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts with North Korea and complained that the news media did not give him enough credit.

line. He basically said that as long as they are not testing, he is happy, even though behind the scenes they continue to perfect their arsenal, ”said Bruce Klingner, a former U.S. intelligence official who is now in the Northeast Asia analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

A test "certainly closes the book on diplomacy," Klingner added. “I think the U.S. is trying to figure out where to go. The president is now less optimistic. ”

After returning from Hanoi, Trump aides sought to shore up political support, briefing lawmakers on Capitol Hill and other stakeholders and making the case that the president showed his negotiating fortitude at holding a hard line. on one briefing, according to one person in the room who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting, Biegun customs congressional staffers

that the North Koreans were not creative in their thinking and did not appear to have a "plan B" after the United States rejected a proposal to lift most sanctions in return for the closure of some of the Yongbyon nuclear site, the country's main production site for fissile materials.

Yet Biegun also took pains to emphasize that he had not assumed his job until last fall, well after the first Trump-Kim summit, which some lawmakers and staffers interpreted as a signal that he had inherited a difficult portfolio and did not want to be hit for the breakdown in talks. "I honestly don't know what they are doing next. I think this has devolved even from the week we sat down ”for the briefing, said the person who was at Beigun's briefing. “The more that Pyongyang is demonstrating, and the more we make hard-line statements that demonstrate our resolve, the harder it is to figure out how to get back to the negotiating table.”

After the administration's outreach efforts, bipartisan coalition of lawmakers offered public praise last week for Trump's approach, performing his decision to reject Pyongyang's sacrifice in Hanoi. But forms U.S. Pat. Officials who have negotiated with the North Koreans said that the engagement process was showing signs of collapsing.

"I could have got worse before it gets better," said Victor Cha, who served as a high-ranking Asia policy official in the George W. Bush administration. “There are no tangible diplomatic pieces to pick up after Hanoi. They've both taken extreme positions. ”

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