China's fingerprints were "all over" the harsh North Korean rebuke after high-level talks with a U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Sunday.
In remarks on "Fox News Sunday," Graham said China is using North Korea to force the United States to back off a trade dispute.
"I see China's hands all over this," Graham said of North Korea's reaction to the talks as "regrettable."
"We're in a fight with China," he said, adding: "They cheat and President [Donald] Trump wants to change the economic relationship with China, so if I were President Trump, I would not let China use North Korea to back me off of the trade dispute. We've got more bullets than they do when it comes to trade."
Graham also expressed optimism about the release by Turkey of jailed North Carolina evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson, whom Graham said he visited in his recent visit to Turkey.
"They are definitely an ally adrift," he said of Turkey, "but there is a new chapter in Turkish history" with the recent re-election of Turkish President Recep Erdogan.
"He's going to have a long time to serve in Turkey, and we need to come to grips with that," Graham said. "We need to push and when it comes to the way they treat the press and human rights abuses . . . I don't believe they would let us see [Brunson] if they were not looking for a way to end this."
He added the United States also has to partner with Turkey to maintain a U.S. troop presence in northeastern Syria to ward off Iran.
"At the end of the day, Iran is a weak economy; they've got problems in their own backyard," he said. "What we need to do is partner with Turkey and Russia and break Iran away."
Pompeo brushed aside North Korea's accusation Sunday of "gangster-like" demands, maintaining that his third visit to the country was producing results but vowing sanctions would remain until Pyongyang follows through on leader Kim Jong Un's pledge to get rid of his nuclear weapons.
Pompeo downplayed North Korea's statement after the talks in which the country's foreign ministry bashed hopes for a quick deal and accused the U.S. of making "gangster-like" demands aimed at forcing it to abandon nuclear weapons.
The North's statement, coming so soon after Pompeo's trip, was sure to fuel growing skepticism in the U.S. over how serious Kim is about giving up his nuclear arsenal.
"If those requests were gangster-like, the world is a gangster," Pompeo said, noting numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions have demanded the North rid itself of nuclear weapons and end its ballistic missile program.
"People are going to make stray comments after meetings," Pompeo said. "If I paid attention to the press, I'd go nuts."
Speaking after meeting with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts in Tokyo, Pompeo said his two days of talks in Pyongyang had been productive and conducted in good faith. But following the stinging commentary from the North, he allowed the goal of denuclearization would be difficult and much work remains.
"The road ahead will be difficult and challenging, and we know critics will try to minimize what we have achieved," he said. Two days of talks with senior North Korean officials had "made progress," he said, and included a "detailed and substantive discussion about the next steps."
Those include the formation of working group to determine exactly how North Korea's denuclearization will be verified and a Thursday meeting with Pentagon officials to discuss the return of remains of Americans soldiers killed during the Korean War.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.
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