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Relief only after ‘confirmation’

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Members of the media take photographs of workers putting barricades around the Fullerton Hotel yesterday. AFP

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday North Korea will receive relief only after it takes clear and irreversible steps to end its nuclear programme, adding it would be a bumpy road to a summit between US and North Korean leaders.

The comments sought to address concern the United States may be rushing to strike a breakthrough in the unprecedented summit between the two leaders after US President Donald Trump put the meeting back on track for June 12 in Singapore.

“We can anticipate, at best, a bumpy road to the (negotiations),” Mattis said before the start of a meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts on the sidelines of Shangri-la dialogue in Singapore.

“We will continue to implement all UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea. North Korea will receive relief only when it demonstrates verifiable and irreversible steps to denuclearisation,” Mattis said.

Trump said on Friday he would hold the meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12 in a dramatic turn of course in the high stakes diplomacy aimed at ending Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.

Eight days after cancelling the summit citing Pyongyang’s “hostility”, Trump announced the decision to go ahead with the meeting after hosting Kim’s envoy in the White House, saying he expected “very positive result” with North Korea.

North Korea has faced years of economic sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes since it conducted its first nuclear test in 2006.

The Trump administration wants the North to “denuclearise”, meaning to get rid of its nuclear arsenal, in return for relief from economic sanctions.

But North Korea’s leadership is believed to regard nuclear weapons as crucial to its survival and has rejected unilaterally disarming.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme has been a source of major security tensions that persisted despite a series of UN and US sanctions and it has also demonstrated advances in ballistic missile technology that experts believe now threatened the US mainland.

At the same time, a US State Department spokeswoman declined to say whether human rights abuses were on the agenda of meetings with North Korea, despite criticism by successive administrations and a US government report that described Pyongyang as running a system of prison labour camps.

“I’m not saying it will be, I’m not saying it won’t be. I’m just not going to get ahead of the Secretary’s meetings that start this week,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, referring to a meeting in New York between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean official, Kim Yong Chol, ahead of a potential summit.

Any summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un would chiefly focus on Pyongyang’s nuclear programs, Nauert said.

While the US has long criticised North Korea for rights abuses, the meeting in Singapore would be the first opportunity for a sitting US president to directly raise the issue with the North Koreans.

The White House was not immediately available to comment on whether North Korea’s rights record would be raised.

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