North Korea does not appear ready yet for the resumption of its working-level nuclear talks with the United States, a senior Seoul official has said, amid concerns that its recent saber-rattling could dampen the mood for dialogue.
The foreign ministry official made the remarks on Friday when Pyongyang fired off two short-range projectiles in the third such launch in about a week. On Saturday, the regime claimed to have tested a "newly-developed large-caliber multiple launch guided rocket system."
"After all, it appears that the North is not ready (for talks)," the official told reporters on the sidelines of annual multilateral meetings involving the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
"Its system does not seem to be one under which they can juggle as many issues as our foreign ministry does. It appears to be focusing on preparations for the working-level negotiations, but there could be an assessment that their preparations are not sufficient yet," she added.
During their impromptu summit at the inter-Korean border on June 30, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to relaunch working-level talks that have been stalled since their no-deal summit in Hanoi in February.
Washington has repeatedly called for the talks to be kickstarted. But Pyongyang has yet to accede to those calls and has criticized both Seoul's plan to stage a combined military exercise with the U.S. and its purchase of advanced weapons systems from Washington.
The ASEAN meetings here this week were expected to set the stage for talks between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho. But Ri abruptly canceled his trip to Bangkok for unspecified reasons.
Commenting on the intentions behind the North's projectile launches, the official raised the possibility that they could be aimed at enhancing its missile technology before the start negotiations, which would make it difficult to conduct such tests.
"As the leaders (of the U.S. and the North) agreed to resume the working-level talks, I think (the North Koreans) will come out sooner or later," the official said.
Touching on Washington's intermediary role between its two Asian allies, Seoul and Tokyo, the official said that the U.S. had made last-minute diplomatic efforts on Thursday night, the eve of Japan's removal of South Korea from its list of trusted trade partners.
"I can say that (the U.S. side) was busy making moves (to help ease the dispute) until last night," the official said.
The decision to drop Seoul from the whitelist came after Japan imposed tighter controls last month on exports to Korea of three key high-tech materials. Seoul has cast the moves as a political retaliation for last year's Supreme Court rulings against Japanese firms over wartime forced labor.
The U.S. has proposed a "standstill agreement" to allow time to work out a negotiated solution between its allies, but Tokyo rejected the proposal, Kim Hyun-chong, Seoul's deputy national security advisor, has said.
On the rejection of the proposal, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono has claimed that it was a matter that Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is in charge of, the official at Seoul's foreign ministry said.
During her trilateral talks with Pompeo and Kono in Bangkok on Friday, Kang was said to have mentioned the issue of South Korea's bilateral military intelligence-sharing deal with Japan, named the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA).
Seoul has hinted that it could review whether to renew the GSOMIA, seen as a rare symbol of security cooperation with Tokyo. The deal is to be renewed annually unless either side opposes its continuation.
"Our side has clearly said that we cannot help but put everything on the table and take it into consideration," the official said. The U.S. side did not make any direct comment on the GSOMIA issue, the official added.
The official said there may need to be some "cooling-off" period between Seoul and Tokyo in the wake of Japan's latest export restriction. (Yonhap)