July 12, 2019 / 9:09 AM / 2 months ago

China says Xi urged Trump to ease North Korea sanctions 'in due course'

BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping urged U.S. President Donald Trump last month to show flexibility in dealings with North Korea and ease sanctions on the country “in due course,” China’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China June 25, 2019. Nicolas Asfouri/Pool via REUTERS/Files

A senior U.S. official said U.S. policy continued to be to maintain sanctions on North Korea until it gives up its nuclear weapons and the State Department reiterated that it expected countries around the world to fully implement and enforce them.

China signed up for strict U.N. sanctions following repeated North Korean nuclear and missile tests but also has suggested they could be eased as a reward for good behaviour.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters that Xi briefed Trump on China’s position on North Korea when they met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka.

“President Xi ... pushed the U.S. side to show flexibility and meet the North Koreans half way, including easing sanctions in due course,” Geng said.

Xi and Trump have both spoken with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently - Xi before the G20 summit during a trip to Pyongyang, and Trump after the summit, when he met Kim at the Demilitarised Zone along the North’s border with South Korea.

Trump said after his meeting that both sides would set up teams to push forward stalled talks aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said they would likely happen “sometime in July ... probably in the next two or three weeks.”

However, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said a top South Korean presidential official visiting Washington expressed uncertainty on Friday that the talks, stalled since a failed summit in Hanoi in February, could resume this month.

Yonhap said Kim Hyun-chong, deputy chief South Korea’s National Security Office, told reporters after meeting Deputy U.S. national security adviser Charles Kupperman that the U.S. side still appeared to be waiting for a response from the North.

The State Department declined specific comment on Kim’s remarks but said it had no meetings to announce. Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said on Tuesday “the contacts and the discussions are ongoing” with North Korea but offered no details.

Trump and Kim’s Hanoi summit collapsed over U.S. demands for North Korea’s complete denuclearization and North Korean insistence on sanctions relief. There has been no sign of a narrowing of differences since.

A senior official of the U.S. administration said the U.S. position had not changed.

“As the president has said, sanctions will stay on until the final, fully verified denuclearization” of North Korea, the source said.

The State Department said this week Washington hoped to see a complete freeze in the North Korean nuclear programme as the start of a process of denuclearization.

North Korea has frozen missile and nuclear bomb testing since 2017 but U.S. officials believe it has expanded its arsenal by continuing to produce bomb fuel and missiles.

Trump has repeatedly hailed the testing freeze as a sign of progress and did so again on Friday, also referring again to his personal chemistry with Kim Jong Un.

“You don’t have a man testing nuclear anymore,” he told reporters at the White House. “You have a man that was so happy to see me. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”

Reporting by Cate Cadellm in Beijing and David Brunnstrom and Nandita Bose in Washington; Writing by Ben Blanchard and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Nick Macfie

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