North Korea tops US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s agenda at Asean security meeting as fears over nukes grow again

Asean ministers are expected to commend the US and Koreas for their peace talks, even as fears grow that North Korea is continuing its missile development

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2018, 1:52am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2018, 4:11am

North Korea will top the agenda for US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he heads to an Asian security meeting in Singapore this week amid new concerns over Pyongyang’s ballistic missile programme and commitment to denuclearisation.

Pompeo and North Korea’s foreign minister are both set to attend the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Regional Forum on Saturday, and US officials say a meeting between the two is possible, although not confirmed.

North Korea is one of 27 members of the forum, which in the past has served as a venue for meetings between top diplomats from Pyongyang and Washington. Pompeo will be in the region from Wednesday to Sunday.

Activity seen at North missile factory, as Korean militaries meet

Singapore was also the site of June’s historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, at which the two reached a loose agreement on denuclearisation.

North Korea “will be in the room and there will certainly be discussions about denuclearisation”, one senior State Department official said on Tuesday. The official was not authorised to publicly discuss Pompeo’s schedule and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Ministers from Asian countries are also expected to commend both the June 12 meeting and the April 27 inter-Korean summit in a communique to be released after the forum, sources said.

Representatives of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam will take note of North Korea’s stated commitment to complete denuclearisation and its pledge to refrain from further nuclear and missile tests in the meantime, a draft says.

The ministers will also reiterate their support for international efforts to achieve “lasting peace and stability on a denuclearised Korean peninsula”.

North Korea enjoying tourism boom after Kim-Moon summit

On the maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the document suggests the ministers will hail the outcome of a meeting of Asean and Chinese senior officials held on June 27, in which the two sides agreed on a single draft negotiating text on forging a code of conduct among the claimants in the sea.

However, they will take note of the concerns by some countries over the land reclamation in the disputed waters that could undermine regional peace, security and stability.

Watch: Trump remains confident about Kim agreement

While the reaction to the Trump-Kim summit at the forum is positive, issues have arisen to give US and other analysts pause.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that US intelligence officials suspect that North Korea is continuing to build new missiles in the same research facility it used to manufacture ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.

The senior State Department official would not address the report, but Pompeo and other members of Trump’s national security team have cautioned that the process of denuclearising North Korea and eliminating the threat from its long-range missiles will not be quick.

“We've made concessions, why isn't war officially over?” Asks North Korea

They have urged patience even as Trump himself has played up positive developments, including the return of apparent remains of more than 50 American service members killed during the Korean war.

The officials cited by the Post said new evidence, including satellite photos taken in recent weeks, suggests that work is underway on at least one and possibly two liquid-fuelled intercontinental ballistic missiles at a research facility in Sanumdong on the outskirts of Pyongyang.

The report cast further doubt on Trump’s claims of victory last month in disarmament talks with North Korea. After the president met Kim, Trump declared on Twitter: “There is no longer a Nuclear threat from North Korea.”

White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway on Tuesday played down the significance of the Washington Post report.

“It suggests that this is a process,” she told Fox News of US efforts to denuclearise North Korea. “Things don’t change overnight.”

Trump said last week that his administration’s plan to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons was “going very well.”

Trump made his remarks after the North Korea-focused 38 North website released recent satellite imagery that seems to show dismantlement underway at Sohae.

Watch: Pompeo says US still working toward North Korean denuclearisation

But his comment seemed at odds with Pompeo, who said that any such step would have to be confirmed by international inspectors and that North Korea continued to produce fuel for nuclear weapons despite Kim’s pledge to denuclearise.

Pompeo said there was “an awful long way to go” before North Korea could no longer be viewed as a nuclear threat.

According to the Post, US officials suspect that North Korea’s strategy is possibly to assert that they have fully denuclearised by declaring and disposing of 20 warheads while retaining dozens more.