General James Mattis, the US defence secretary, warned on Sunday of a "bumpy road" to the negotiating table with Kim Jong-un as nuclear talks with North Korea, tentatively scheduled later this month, still appear to hang in the balance.
He cautioned against high expectations ahead of the highly anticipated June 12th meeting, days after President Donald Trump announced the cancelled meeting in Singapore was once again going ahead, calling it a "getting to know you meeting".
Gen Mattis has spent the last few days in Singapore shoring up support from allies before of the historic meeting, seen by the US as the first step towards denuclearising the Korean Peninsula.
"We can anticipate, at best, a bumpy road to the negotiations," he said speaking at the beginning of a meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts on Sunday, the final day of the Shangri-La Dialogue security conference.
Click Here: gws giants guernsey 2019
"In this moment, we are steadfastly committed to strengthening even further our defense cooperation as the best means for preserving the peace.
"I am going to visit the DPRK and meet… Kim Jong-un," Assad said, the North’s state-run KCNA news agency reported, using the abbreviated version of the country’s official name.
"The world welcomes the remarkable events in the Korean peninsula brought about recently by the outstanding political calibre and wise leadership of… Kim Jong-un," KCNA cited Assad as saying during a meeting with North Korean Ambassador Mun Jong Nam on Wednesday.
United Nations monitors have accused North Korea of cooperating with Syria on chemical weapons, a charge the North denies.
Sanctions have been levied against North Korea by bodies and countries including the European Union, Japan, South Korea, the UN and the US since 2006.
Gen Mattis reiterated that North Korea would only receive relief from crippling US sanctions when there is irrefutable evidence that the country’s nuclear programme is being dismantled.
"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."
North Korea’s fiery relationship with the US
Ahead of the summit, the key task remains agreement on the agenda with the main stumbling block likely to be the understanding of the term "denuclearisation".
Both sides say they are in favour of it, but there is a gap between their definitions.
Washington wants North Korea to quickly give up all its nuclear weapons in a verifiable way in return for lifting years of crippling economic sanctions imposed after it conducted its first nuclear test in 2006.
But analysts say North Korea will be unwilling to cede its nuclear deterrent unless it is given guarantees that the US will not try to topple the regime.
The retired army general’s tough talk came after the usually bombastic Mr Trump remained uncharacteristically cautious in his ambitions for the talks.
"I think it’ll be a process… I never said it goes in one meeting. I think it’s going to be a process. But the relationships are building, and that’s a very positive thing," Mr Trump said on Friday.