SINGAPORE — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed growing exasperation with North Korea on Friday, accusing its government of refusing to respect a promise to President Trump to stop, or even slow, Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
Speaking to reporters while flying to Singapore — a trip intended in part to press Asian counterparts to maintain sanctions against Pyongyang — Mr. Pompeo noted a vague declaration in June by the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, to work toward a full denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
The chief American diplomat is deeply skeptical that North Korea will give up its nuclear and ballistic missile weapons programs, according to two of his advisers, who said Mr. Pompeo believes he nonetheless must see through the outreach to Pyongyang that he began.
“Chairman Kim made a commitment to denuclearize,” Mr. Pompeo said, adding, “We can see we have still a ways to go to achieve the ultimate outcome with them.”
But later on Friday, in an interview with a Singapore news channel, Mr. Pompeo sounded a more optimistic note, saying that “of course, we’re closer” to denuclearization, and that the American government was “confident” that Mr. Kim remained committed to that goal.
In Washington, the Treasury Department announced new sanctions against a Russian bank accused of doing business with North Korea. The economic penalties underscored the contradiction between Mr. Trump, who has sought improved ties with Russia and North Korea, and his government’s push for increasingly tough measures against both countries.
Following his warm meeting with Mr. Kim in June, Mr. Trump said North Korea “is no longer a nuclear threat,” and hailed the diplomatic opening with Pyongyang. Even as his own intelligence agencies collect evidence that North Korea continues to process plutonium and build the missiles needed to deliver a weapon to the continental United States, Mr. Trump has repeatedly insisted that talks are going well.
Mr. Pompeo never believed that North Korea would so easily abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile weapons programs, according to the two advisers, both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity.
As recently as last week, he told senators that North Korean officials “continue to produce fissile material,” using the term for nuclear material that can be used in a bomb. That had followed a tense visit to Pyongyang last month, after which North Korea accused Mr. Pompeo of pushing a “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization.”
At his meetings in Singapore, where he is attending a Southeast Asia security conference, Mr. Pompeo intends to urge allies to continue squeezing Pyongyang with sanctions.
The economic penalties announced by the Treasury Department were placed against the Russian-registered Agrosoyuz Commercial Bank for facilitating transactions on behalf of Han Jang Su, the Moscow-based chief representative of the Foreign Trade Bank, North Korea’s primary foreign exchange bank.
The new sanctions came just a day after The Wall Street Journal reported that Moscow was allowing thousands of North Korean laborers into Russia and granting new work permits — potentially violating United Nations sanctions.
Although records in Moscow paint a complicated picture of the permits, and Russia’s ambassador to North Korea denied the report on Friday, Nikki R. Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations, called it credible and “deeply troubling.”
“Talk is cheap,” Ms. Haley said in a statement. “Russia cannot support sanctions with their words in the Security Council only to violate them with their actions.”
The State Department has said that North Korea’s laborers are akin to slaves who typically work 16- to 20-hour shifts and have most of their wages confiscated by the North Korean government. The United States has warned that American companies that employ North Korean workers at any level could face steep penalties.
Friday’s sanctions were also part of an effort by the Trump administration to stay ahead of what seems an inevitable wave of tougher economic penalties against Russia that may soon be required by Congress. Legislation filed this week by a bipartisan group of senators would ramp up sanctions against Moscow in response to Russia’s continued interference in Western elections, its malign influence in Syria and its takeover of the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine.
Also on Friday, Mr. Pompeo renewed his demand that Turkey free an American pastor imprisoned on espionage charges. The United States also relied on sanctions, imposed on Wednesday, to punish two top Turkish government officials whom Washington accused of human rights abuses.
It was an extraordinary action against a NATO ally that has plunged relations between the United States and Turkey to their worst level in decades.
After arriving in Singapore, Mr. Pompeo discussed the case of the evangelical pastor, Andrew Brunson, with Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, after previously pressing the case at least three times by phone.
“The Turks were well on notice that the clock had run out and that it was time for Pastor Brunson to be returned. I hope they’ll see this for what it is: a demonstration that we’re very serious,” Mr. Pompeo said.
After their meeting, Mr. Cavusoglu said the harsh American tactics would not work, according to the semiofficial Anadolu news agency.
“Since the beginning, we have been saying that a solution cannot be reached by using threatening language and sanctions,” Mr. Cavusoglu was quoted as saying. “Today we repeated that. And we believe that is understood very well.”
Nevertheless, he said, it had been a “very constructive meeting,” and the two men had agreed to work closely. “It cannot be expected to solve all these crises or problems in one meeting,” Mr. Cavusoglu added.
Richard C. Paddock reported from Singapore, and Gardiner Harris from Washington.
Orignially published in NYT.