US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushes back against North Korean sanctions-relief claims
Lifting of sanctions cannot take place ‘until such time as we have showed that North Korea has been completely denuclearised’, he says
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Kim Jong-un will not receive sanctions relief until after his complete disarmament, pushing back against North Korean suggestions that penalties will soon start being relaxed.
Pompeo – sharing a podium in Seoul on Thursday with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts – was asked about North Korean claims that US President Donald Trump had committed to a “step-by-step” process and “expressed his intention” to lift sanctions. Those assertions appear to contradict Trump’s pledge to keep penalties in place until Kim’s nuclear weapons “are no longer a factor”.
“Chairman Kim Jong-un understands the urgency of the timing of completing this denuclearisation, and understands we must do this quickly,” Pompeo said.
“And the sanctions relief cannot take place until such time as we have showed that North Korea has been completely denuclearised.”
Pompeo was briefing North Asian leaders on Trump’s summit with Kim in Singapore on Tuesday, meeting South Korean President Moon Jae-in before heading to Beijing later to talk with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Both Moon and Xi have advocated a phased approach to negotiations and moved to quickly repair ties with Pyongyang, while Japan wants the US-led “maximum pressure” campaign to continue.
China mooted sanctions relief for North Korea within hours of the Trump-Kim summit, which Foreign Minister Wang Yi described as “creating a new history”.
Trump has come under increasing criticism because the 1½ -page statement that he and Kim signed in Singapore spelt out no specific North Korean commitments besides working towards the “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”, a promise the regime has repeatedly made and broken since the 1990s. The president raised more questions after declaring upon his return to the US that there was “no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea”.
For weeks, Pompeo and other officials have insisted North Korea must agree to “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation” before economic sanctions can be lifted. Pompeo said during a news conference with foreign ministers Taro Kono of Japan and Kang Kyung-wha of South Korea that the agreement included those demands, even if they were not spelt out.
“The summit created this enormous historic opportunity for us to move forward and will fundamentally really shape the relationship between the United States and North Korea,” he said. “Verification is essential to that. ‘Complete denuclearisation’ certainly encompasses that idea very clearly.”
After arriving in Seoul on Wednesday, Pompeo said he expected that North Korea would take major steps towards nuclear disarmament during Trump’s first term. US defence analysts have said Kim retains as many as 60 nuclear bombs and a range of missiles, including some he says can strike the US.
“We’re hopeful that we can achieve that in, what was it, the next two and half years,” Pompeo said. “We’re hopeful we can get it done. There’s a lot of work left to do.”
Bridling at a reporter who asked on Wednesday how the deal would be verified, Pompeo said: “I find that question insulting and ridiculous and frankly ludicrous. I just have to be honest with you, it’s a game, it’s a game, and one ought not play games with serious matters like this.”
The lack of details contributed to an air of scepticism in Washington about what Trump accomplished. While the president won general praise for talking to Kim – instead of tweeting at him – even some Republicans were grasping for concrete takeaways and sounding cautious.
“It’s important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that Kim Jong-un is a butcher and he is a butcher of his own people,” Senator John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, said on Tuesday.
“Trying to reason with someone like that is like trying to hand feed a shark. Doesn’t mean you can’t do it, but you’ve got to do it very, very carefully.”
Trump also drew criticism for announcing he was ending joint “war games” with South Korea, embracing the frequent North Korean criticism that the exercises are “very provocative”. The allies were discussing a suspension of the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises scheduled for August, South Korea’s MoneyToday newspaper reported on Thursday, citing an unidentified defence ministry official.
While Moon did not address the drills in his own public remarks with Pompeo, he said the meeting had reduced the threat of war.
“Our understanding is that what President Trump said after his deep consultation with Chairman Kim Jong-un is aimed at strengthening the budding dialogue momentum between South and North Korea,” said Kang, the South Korean foreign minister.
Pompeo said on Wednesday that Trump “made it very clear that the condition precedent for the exercises not to proceed was productive, good-faith negotiations being ongoing. And at the point that it’s concluded they are not, the president’s commitment to not have those joint exercises take place will no longer be in effect.”
Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was mulling his own summit with Kim in August or September, the Yomiuri newspaper reported, citing several unidentified government officials. Kono, Abe’s foreign minister, said the government was not considering such a meeting at the moment and that high-level exchanges must resolve the issue of Japanese abductees held by North Korea.