Defence secretary says he is ‘not aware’ of any steps North Korea has taken to denuclearise

James Mattis says the parties are at the 'front end of the process' 

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Thursday 21 June 2018 21:29 BST
James Mattis admits lack of progress on dismantling of North Korean nuclear weapons

Defence Secretary James Mattis said he is “not aware” of North Korea taking action to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme after Donald Trump met with Kim Jong-un earlier this month.

The Singapore summit on 12 June resulted in a vaguely worded agreement which critics have said did not fully define what the phrase “complete denuclearisation” meant for both parties. “Obviously, at the very front end of the process. The detailed negotiations have not begun. I wouldn’t expect that at this point,” Mr Mattis said.

However, Mr Trump was quick to say in the wake of the historic agreement signing that North Korea would begin destruction of a missile site as soon as Mr Kim reached Pyongyang and made broad "security guarantees" to Mr Kim.

The agreement did not specify a timeline for such events either but Mr Trump said the hermit kingdom was “no longer a nuclear threat”.

Soon thereafter, the president said US-South Korea joint military exercises would be halted in order to not further exacerbate inter-Korean tensions. The Pentagon did receive official guidance on the matter until days later.

Last month, Pyongyang had said the joint US and South Korean Air Force drills, which included fighter jets, were a “rehearsal for [an] invasion of the North and a provocation amid warming inter-Korean ties…[it is an] intentional military provocation running counter to the positive political development on the Korean Peninsula”.

Trump-Kim meeting: how events unfolded at the Singapore summit

North Korea had cancelled scheduled peace talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and threatened not to meet Mr Trump. However, during the summit the US leader seemed to characterise the drills much in the way Mr Kim’s state-run news agency had earlier when he called the joint exercises "provocative".

Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said earlier this week: “Consistent with President Trump’s commitment and in concert with our Republic of Korea ally, the US military has suspended all planning for this August’s defensive ‘war game'."

The Pentagon also indicated “no decisions on subsequent war games” had been made as yet.

Mr Mattis is expected to travel to Seoul to meet his counterpart and “sort out the way ahead”.

The president countered the assertion that he conceded more than Mr Kim, by reeling off the number of months without a missile test by North Korea during an impromptu session with media gathered on the White House lawn last week.

"You haven't had a missile test in seven months, you haven't had a firing, you haven't had a nuclear test in eight-and-a-half months, you haven't had a missile flying over Japan," Mr Trump said.

"They're doing so much for us."

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