Top US diplomat back in North Korea to firm up denuclearisation schedule
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets for nearly three hours with Kim Jong-un’s point man; more talks expected Saturday
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met for nearly three hours on Friday with a top North Korean official in Pyongyang to nail down the specifics of commitments on denuclearisation that were made when US President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last month.
Pompeo has the crucial task of dispelling growing scepticism over how serious Kim is about giving up his nuclear arsenal and translating the upbeat rhetoric after the June 12 summit into concrete action.
It is Pompeo’s third trip to the North Korean capital in as many months, and his first since the summit meeting. At the start of his meeting with Kim Yong-chol, a senior ruling party official and close aide to North Korea’s leader, Pompeo quipped about his frequent visits.
“I was joking that if I come one more time, I will have to pay taxes here,” he said.
Kim, who has been something of a point man on Washington negotiations for Kim Jong-un, said: “The more you come, the more trust we can build between one another.”
The talks, which lasted 2 hours and 45 minutes, were held at a state guest house complex located a short drive from the gargantuan mausoleum where North Korea’s founding leader Kim Il-sung and his successor Kim Jong-il lie in state.
Pompeo was expected to hold further meetings on Saturday. It was not clear whether any progress was made in Friday’s discussions and whether Pompeo would be meeting directly with Kim Jong-un, as he had done on his previous visits.
On the flight to Pyongyang, Pompeo said that both sides had made commitments at the Singapore summit on the complete denuclearisation of North Korea and on what a transformed relationship between their two countries might look like.
“On this trip, I’m seeking to fill in some details on these commitments and continue the momentum toward implementation of what the two leaders promised each other and the world. I expect that the DPRK is ready to do the same,” Pompeo said, using the initials for North Korea’s official name.
One hoped-for breakthrough would be the return of the remains of American service members killed during the 1950-53 Korean war. North Korea committed at the summit to the “immediate repatriation” of remains that were already identified, but that has yet to happen.
Just before Pompeo’s arrival, the state-run media lobbed a warning shot at Washington over its criticism of North Korea’s human rights record.
The criticism, published on North Korea’s government-run website, said that Washington should stop provoking the North with an “anachronistic human rights racket” at a time of diplomatic attempts to improve ties.
Doubts over the North’s intentions have grown amid reports it is continuing to expand facilities related to its nuclear and missile programmes and that US intelligence is sceptical about its intentions to give up its weapons.
Speaking aboard Air Force One on a trip to Montana, Trump said on Thursday that he still believed Kim would follow through and said he forged a personal connection with the autocrat he once pilloried as “Little Rocket Man”.
“I think we understand each other. I really believe that he sees a different future for North Korea,” Trump told reporters. “I hope that is true. If it’s not true, then we go back to the other way, but I don’t think that is going to be necessary.”
Trump needs Pompeo to make progress to lay to rest doubts over whether the president – who has already ordered a suspension of large-scale US military drills with South Korea – is hurting the bigger goal of complete denuclearisation by being eager to claim a quick success.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton, who has expressed hardline views on North Korea, said last weekend that Pompeo would present Pyongyang with a plan to complete the dismantling of the North’s nuclear and missile programmes in one year.
On Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert walked that back, declining to give a timeline.
Pyongyang is Pompeo’s first stop on his first around-the-world trip as America’s top diplomat. He will then travel to Japan, Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates before heading to Belgium, where he will accompany Trump at the Nato summit meetings in Brussels on Wednesday.