China, Russia, and North Korea will huddle in Moscow just days after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s latest trip to Pyongyang, a Russian diplomat confirmed Saturday.
“The consultations are expected to focus on denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and efforts to improve the Seoul-Pyongyang relationship,” state-run TASS reported, citing Russia’s embassy to North Korea.
The plan to meet emerged as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is traveling for meetings Sunday in North Korea, as he seeks to “develop sufficient trust” needed to dismantle the regime’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Russia is hosting the meeting a month after the United States accused Moscow of “actively working to undermine” the maximum pressure campaign; both Russia and China proposed easing sanctions on the regime in September.
"On Oct. 8, bilateral consultations at the level of deputy foreign ministers will be held in Moscow to be attended by the North Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son Hui, while on Oct. 9, trilateral consultations between deputy ministers of Russia, North Korea, and China will take place,” the Russian embassy said.
North Korea’s vice minister of foreign affairs is one of Pompeo’s top negotiating counterparts. “We talk with Choe Son Hui all the time,” Pompeo told reporters during the first leg of his trip to Asia. “We welcome China’s efforts to continue to enforce the U.N. Security Council resolutions. We’ve talked with them about that a great deal. We value their participation in this process, and so I think it’s inevitable that the North Koreans are going to talk to their longtime neighbor, the Chinese.”
China’s top diplomat urged the U.S. to ease economic sanctions on North Korea, during an international debate on the issue at the United Nations General Assembly.
“There is a provision in the Security Council resolutions that the council is prepared to modify the sanctions measures in light of the DPRK's compliance,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the Security Council through a U.N. translator, using the formal acronym for the Kim regime. “China believes that the Security Council needs to consider invoking in due course this provision to encourage the DPRK and other relevant parties to move denuclearization further ahead.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov concurred. “Negotiations are a two-way street,” he said. “Steps by the DPRK toward gradual disarmament should be followed by easing of sanctions.”
Pompeo preempted those calls by opening the meeting by stressing the importance of the pressure campaign. “We must not forget what’s brought us this far: the historic international pressure campaign that this council has made possible through the sanctions that it imposed,” he said. "Until the final denuclearization of the DPRK is achieved and fully verified, it is our solemn collective responsibility to fully implement all U.N. Security Council resolutions pertaining to North Korea."
But the U.S. faces pressure even from allies to make at least a symbolic gesture to North Korean regime.
“What North Korea has indicated is they will permanently dismantle their nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, which is a very big part of their nuclear program,” South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said in a Washington Post interview published Wednesday. “If they do that in return for America’s corresponding measures, such as the end-of-war declaration, I think that’s a huge step forward for denuclearization.”
Pompeo wouldn’t say what he thinks of that specific idea, but agreed on the need for some sort of trust-building exercise.
“Each side has to develop sufficient trust so they can take the actions necessary to get to the end, and then we’re also going to set up the next summit,” he told reporters on Friday.