By Cindy Saine
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is wrapping up his Southeast Asia tour in Jakarta, but North Korea again is capturing much of the attention.
Pompeo arrived in Jakarta on Saturday from Singapore, where there were mixed messages on relations between the U.S. and North Korea amid talks over denuclearization. On the plane to Jakarta, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Pompeo and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho had approached each other during the “family photo” session and had shaken hands.
Pompeo said, “We should talk again soon,” to which Ri responded, “I agree. There are many productive conversations to be had.”
After that, U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim delivered to Ri a letter from President Donald Trump to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The contents of the letter were not disclosed.
A senior U.S. administration official said the brief encounter between Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart was not surprising. “This is to be expected. Much of the intervention was positive and that’s an improvement from the past. We’re building a relationship with North Korea after years of difficult relations.”
Pompeo left the annual summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to head to his final stop in Jakarta. After he left the room, North Korea’s Ri delivered a statement saying his country was committed to adhering to the agreements made between Trump and Kim at the Singapore summit last month. But he called the U.S. attitude on urging other countries to keep up the sanctions on North Korea “alarming” and said it was not what Trump wanted.
Ri’s remarks followed the release of a U.N. report warning that North Korea had found ways to navigate around the sanctions. The report said North Korea has had a “massive increase” of illegal ship-to-ship transfers of oil products at sea to evade sanctions.
The report also documented violations of a ban on North Korean exports, including coal, iron and seafood, all of which generate millions of dollars of revenue for Pyongyang. There also are indications the North is continuing to build rockets, and concerns the nation has not been clear about when and how it will disarm.
Pompeo said the U.S. was taking any infringement of the sanctions very seriously.
“We have seen reports that Russia is allowing for joint ventures with North Korean firms and granting new work permits to North Korean guest workers,” Pompeo said. “If these reports are proven accurate, and we have every reason to believe that they are, that would be in violation of U.N. sanctions.”
On Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department said it had imposed sanctions on a Russian bank for helping North Korea avoid Security Council actions intended to restrain Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. The agency said Moscow-based Agrosoyuz Commercial Bank had expedited “a significant transaction” with an individual whom the U.S. blacklisted for being involved in North Korea’s weapons development.
The Treasury said the Russian bank had conducted the transaction for Han Jang Su, the Moscow-based head of North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank (FTB), Pyongyang’s primary foreign exchange bank. Han’s deputy, Ri Jong Won, who also is based in Moscow, also was targeted by the sanctions.
The department said both Han and Ri should be expelled from Russia under U.N. resolutions designed to pressure North Korea for its weapons programs. And the Treasury targeted what it said were two FTB front companies, China-based Dandong Zhongsheng Industry & Trade Co. Ltd. and Korea Ungum Corporation.
Before leaving the ASEAN summit in Singapore, Pompeo met Saturday with Myanmar Foreign Minister Kyaw Tin and called for the immediate release of two Reuters journalists detained in the Southeast Asian country.
The State Department’s Nauert told VOA that Pompeo had raised the issue during their sideline meeting and added the U.S. was very concerned about their detention. The journalists were charged with possessing documents linked to security operations against Rohingya militants in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state.
Additionally, Pompeo also met Saturday with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
He signed a memorandum of understanding with Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan for the U.S.-Singapore Third Country Training Program, which supports community-building efforts among the 10 ASEAN member states.
On Friday in Singapore, Pompeo was asked about tensions with Turkey over detained American pastor Andrew Brunson, prompting Pompeo to again call for his release. He said Turkey remained a valuable NATO ally of the United States, and said he was working closely with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on a number of issues.
Pompeo met Friday with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Singapore. The two men did not speak to reporters after the meeting, but shortly thereafter China warned it would impose new tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. goods if the Trump administration followed through with its latest trade threats.
The Commerce Ministry said the proposed tariffs of 5 percent to 25 percent on more than 5,200 U.S. goods were restrained, and maintained it had the right to take retaliatory action in the escalating trade war between the world’s two largest economies.
On Thursday, the Chinese foreign minister told reporters the U.S. needed to calm down and consider its own consumers, responding to threats by the Trump administration to raise its proposed tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from the initially planned 10 percent to 25 percent.
The U.S. says it wants China to stop stealing U.S. corporate secrets and stop subsidizing Chinese companies with cheap loans that give them an unfair advantage.