Seoul: North Korea estimated to have 20-60 nuclear weapons

Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un at their summit in Singapore

Modal Trigger REUTERS

As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heads to Pyongyang this weekend to prepare the ground for a second Trump-Kim summit, North Korea appears to have upped its demands, arguing that the United States should prove it is serious about dialogue by easing sanctions, before it takes steps to denuclearize.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to North Korea, Sunday, fueling optimism for progress in the stalled nuclear talks between the two countries.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters on Tuesday that Pompeo will meet with Kim on Sunday, following a daylong visit to Japan.

On Friday, they will take part in the first-ever joint event to celebrate the 11th anniversary of the 2007 summit held in Pyongyang between then-South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. North Korea's foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, told the United Nations last week that "there is no way we will unilaterally disarm ourselves first".

The Seoul government earlier said that it does not view the money to be spent on the South Korean delegation's trip to the North as a violation of global sanctions on its regime, though it said that close talks have been under way with the United States on the matter.

Many foreign experts say North Korea are likely running additional secret uranium-enrichment plants.

"While surely Pompeo and Kim won't be able to create the complete agenda for a second summit - or achieve a massive breakthrough in one meeting - their talks can explore if such a meeting is viable and what both sides might be willing to compromise on".

The trip would be Pompeo's fourth to North Korea and comes a month after Trump canceled a trip the top USA diplomat had planned for August.

On Saturday, Trump lavished praise on Kim and said they had fallen "in love" after exchanging letters. "But it's a good first step", said Joel Wit, a senior Fellow at the Stimson Center who was involved in past negotiations with the North Koreans while working at the State Department.

"I think it shows forward progress and momentum that the secretary is making his fourth trip back in less than a year", Nauert said. But he added that much work remains to be done and that the sanctions against the DPRK will stay in place "until denuclearization occurs".

Even though both sides seemed to be making progress following an announcement that North Korea may be willing to allow worldwide experts to observe the dismantlement of testing sites, Pyongyang and Washington also seemed to entrench their opposing positions during the UNGA.

"We're hopeful. We're working toward that goal", Nauert said of the 2021 timeline. "Nothing has changed with regard to our policy".

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