Columns

Pompeo: North Korea Should Take Denuclearization Steps Within Next Two Years

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks with Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of United States Forces Korea, upon his arrival at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek on June 13, 2018. (Jung Yeon-je/Pool Photo via AP)

Whereas President Trump predicted denuclearization of North Korea would begin ASAP, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters in Seoul today that he’s “hopeful” denuclearization can be achieved “in the next – what is it – two and a half years, something like that.”

Pompeo said he was in the room when Trump agreed to halt long-running military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea that have angered Pyongyang.

Trump “made it very clear that the condition precedent for the exercises not to proceed was a productive, good-faith negotiations being ongoing,” Pompeo said. “And at the point it’s concluded that they are not, the president’s commitment to not have those joint exercises take place will no longer be in effect. I mean, he was unambiguous about that and how he communicated it both I think at the press conference but certainly when he was with Chairman Kim as well.”

Pompeo said that “it should be very clear that the president is in the lead,” but he will “be the person who takes the role of driving this process forward.”

“I don’t know exactly what the timing will be for our next conversation with North Korea. I would anticipate it will be fairly quickly after we return to our home countries. I don’t know exactly what form that will take, but I’m very confident that by some time in the next week or so we will begin the engagement,” he said.

A document signed by Kim and President Trump in Singapore provided no details, yet says Trump “committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

It also said the two parties “commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified” and would “commit to establish new U.S.–DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity,” but Trump did not say what those new relations would look like.

The document did not include the freeze on U.S.-Seoul military exercises; Trump mentioned it at his press conference afterward. Pompeo said today that there are more undisclosed areas of agreement. “Not all of that work appeared in the final document, but lots of other places where there were understandings reached,” he said. “We couldn’t reduce them to writing, so that means there’s still some work to do, but there was a great deal of work done that is beyond what was seen in the final document that will be the place that we’ll begin when we return to our conversations.”

“…A lot has been made of the fact that the word ‘verifiable’ didn’t appear in the agreement. Let me assure you that the ‘complete’ encompasses verifiable in the minds of everyone concerned. One can’t completely denuclearize without validating, authenticating – you pick the word.”

When pressed on the wording and how North Korean compliance would be verified, Pompeo snapped,  “I find that question insulting and ridiculous and, frankly, ludicrous. I just have to be honest with you. It’s a game and one ought not play games with serious matters like this.”

“The modalities are beginning to develop. There’ll be a great deal of work to do. It’s – there’s a long way to go, there’s much to think about, but don’t say silly things,” he added. “No, don’t, don’t. It’s not productive. It’s not productive to do that, to say silly things. It’s just – it’s unhelpful.”

The Kim regime’s official Korean Central News Agency reported that Kim Jong-un “clarified the stand” to Trump “that if the U.S. side takes genuine measures for building trust in order to improve the DPRK-U.S. relationship, the DPRK, too, can continue to take additional good-will measures of next stage commensurate with them.”

That includes “the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action,” KCNA said.

Pompeo would not comment on the North Korean assertion that Trump agreed to a phased approach. “I’m going to leave the content of our discussions as between the two parties, but one should heavily discount some things that are written in other places,” he said.

Pompeo also wouldn’t get into the intelligence assessment of whether the North Koreans have actually destroyed test sites. “It’s always the case that our strong preference would be to have experts on the ground when these types of things take place; we gain a much more thorough understanding of what actually occurred and what may not have,” he noted.

Pressed on whether disarmament goals with North Korea can be achieved by the end of Trump’s term, the secretary of State said, “We’re prepared to execute this once we’re in position that we can actually get to a place where we can do it. So I’m confident that the long pole in the tent will be our capacity to negotiate to that place, but I’m hopeful we can move that forward fairly quickly as well.”