SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – The U.S. ambassador to South Korea said Thursday he was surprised and pleased that North Korea did not give the U.S. an unwelcome â€œChristmas giftâ€ because of stalled nuclear disarmament talks, and that President Donald Trump is still confident it will denuclearize.
North Korea had warned that its â€œChristmas giftâ€ to the U.S. would depend on what action Washington took in the talks, leading to concerns that it might conduct a major weapons test. It hasn’t conducted any such test, although the U.S. didn’t meet a year-end deadline set by leader Kim Jong Un to make concessions.
â€œYou can say that I personally was surprised. But Iâ€™m glad also … there was no Christmas gift,â€ Ambassador Harry Harris told reporters in Seoul. â€œWashington was ready for any eventuality, and we were all glad that there was no ICBM test or nuclear test.â€
He said both Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in â€œare keeping the door open to negotiations and hoping Kim Jong Un will walk through that door.â€
â€œSo the ball is in his court,” he said.
During their first summit in Singapore in 2018, Kim made a vague pledge to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the two leaders agreed to improve relations to build lasting peace. Their two subsequent summits and other lower-level meetings havenâ€™t achieved much progress in fleshing out those agreements.
Harris said Trump believes Kim will live up to the Singapore pledge.
â€œPresident Trump … is still confident that Kim Jong Un will meet the commitment that they both made together in Singapore,â€ Harris said. â€œWe should focus on President Trumpâ€™s view that there is room for discussion here.â€
Prospects for a restart of diplomacy are unclear.
In a meeting of his ruling party late last month, Kim said he won’t denuclearize if the U.S. persists with its â€œhostile policyâ€ toward his country. He also said he would soon unveil a new “strategic weapon” and no longer be bound by a weapons test moratorium that he announced at the start of his diplomacy with Trump.