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SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has warned it could revive a state policy aimed at strengthening its nuclear arsenal if the United States does not lift economic sanctions against the country.
The statement released by the Foreign Ministry Friday evening came amid a sense of unease between Washington and Seoul over the use of sanctions and pressure to get the North to relinquish its nuclear program.
The ministry said North Korea could bring back its "pyongjin" policy of simultaneously advancing its nuclear force and economic development if the United States doesn't change its stance.
The North came short of threatening to abandon the ongoing nuclear negotiations with the United States.
But it accused Washington of derailing commitments made by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump at their June summit in Singapore to work toward a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, without describing how and when it would occur.
In an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he plans to talk next week with his North Korean counterpart, apparently referring to senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol.
Pompeo did not provide the location and date for the meeting, which will likely be focused on persuading North Korea to take firmer steps toward denuclearization and setting up a second summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.
"A lot of work remains, but I'm confident that we will keep the economic pressure in place until such time as Chairman Kim fulfills the commitment he made to President Trump back in June in Singapore," Pompeo said.
Pompeo and others in Washington were the target for the North's latest public salvo, Dr. Cheong Seong Chang, vice president of research and planning at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, told NBC News.
"The fact that the commentary was written by a low ranking official suggests that North Korea does not want to walk away from the current setting for the talks," said Dr. Cheong. "But, North Korea seems to want the U.S. to know what they want prior to the high-level talks to come."
The North Korean Foreign Ministry statement, released under the name of the director of the ministry's Institute for American Studies, said the "improvement of relations and sanctions is incompatible."
"The U.S. thinks that its oft-repeated 'sanctions and pressure' leads to 'denuclearization.' We cannot help laughing at such a foolish idea," it said. The ministry described the lifting of U.S.-led sanctions as corresponding action to the North's "proactive and good-will measures," apparently referring to its unilateral suspension of nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and closure of a nuclear testing ground.
Following a series of provocative nuclear and missile tests last year, Kim shifted to diplomacy when he met with Trump between three summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who lobbied hard to revive nuclear diplomacy between Washington and Seoul.
However, the North has been playing hardball since the summit. It's insisting that sanctions should be lifted before any progress in nuclear talks, which fueled doubts on whether Kim would ever deal away a nuclear program he may see as his strongest guarantee of survival.
Moon has described inter-Korean engagement as crucial to resolving the nuclear standoff.
But South Korea's enthusiasm for engagement with its rival has also created discomfort in the United States amid growing concerns that the North is dragging its feet with its promise to denuclearize.
Still, Friday's statement should not be taken as a sign that the promise will indeed be broken, experts said.
"North Korea is not going to break the promise at this point," said Dr. Koh Yu Whan, a professor of North Korea studies at Dongguk University in Seoul.
Pyongyang "has been complaining that their efforts made so far regarding denuclearization efforts have not been appreciated," Dr. Koh said, and so wants "to vent their complaints out loud."
"I don't think that the threats to resume developing nuclear and missiles at this point and juncture are serious," he added.