Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said North Korea is "of course" closer to denuclearization, but he acknowledged it will take some time before that happens and said the schedule for divesting the country of its missiles and weapons would be set by Kim Jong Un.
"Of course, we're closer," Pompeo said in an interview Friday with Channel NewsAsia in Singapore when asked if the summit between Kim and President Donald Trump has brought denuclearization closer.
But earlier, on his way to Singapore, Pompeo had acknowledged to reporters that Kim is behaving in a "manner inconsistent" with international calls for him to set aside his nuclear program.
"Chairman Kim made a commitment to denuclearize. The world demanded that he do so in the UN Security Council resolutions. To the extent they are behaving in a manner inconsistent with that, they are in violation of one or both of the UN Security Council resolutions," Pompeo said. "We can see we still have a ways to go to achieve the ultimate outcome we're looking for."
'The decision is his'
Pompeo had told a Senate panel on July 26 that North Korea continues to produce weapons-grade fissile material.
And on Monday, The Washington Post reported on new indicators, including satellite images, showing that North Korea could be building new liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missiles.
In his interview with Channel NewsAsia, Pompeo said "the ultimate timeline for denuclearization will be set by Chairman Kim, at least in part. The decision is his."
In exchange for Pyongyang's denuclearization, Pompeo reiterated US pledges to improve its relationship with North Korea and "put the North Korean people on a trajectory towards a brighter future very quickly."
North Korea has recently indicated that it feels the ball is in Washington's court and wants the US to make a "bold move" before it takes any further steps on denuclearization. North Korean officials want the US to replace the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War with a formal peace treaty that ensures the survival of Kim's regime, North Korean sources have told CNN.
The North Koreans feel they have already made ample gestures, including freezing missile testing, dismantling some nuclear sites and returning the remains of US soldiers who died in the Korean War.
Pompeo is in Singapore for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, where he is discussing Indo-Pacific trade, security, the debate over the South China Sea and North Korean denuclearization, the State Department said.
Pompeo told Channel NewsAsia that despite any progress, sanctions would remain in place "until we have full denuclearization in North Korea."
The US government announced new sanctions Friday against a Russian bank for helping the North Korean regime facilitate illicit financial activity and, as a result, develop its nuclear weapons program.
"The United States will continue to enforce UN and US sanctions and shut down illicit revenue streams to North Korea," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. "Our sanctions will remain in place until we have achieved the final, fully-verified denuclearization of North Korea."
The sanctions follow a Thursday tweet from Trump thanking Kim after 55 cases of what might be the remains of American soldiers killed in the Korean War arrived back on US soil. The President also hinted at a possible second meeting.
"Thank you to Chairman Kim Jong Un for keeping your word & starting the process of sending home the remains of our great and beloved missing fallen! I am not at all surprised that you took this kind action. Also, thank you for your nice letter - l look forward to seeing you soon!" Trump tweeted early Thursday morning.