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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 12:40 pm

Pompeo predicts N.Korean denuclearization in Trump's 1st term

Nick Wadhams | Bloomberg

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he expects North Korea to take the major steps toward nuclear disarmament during Donald Trump's first term, as the U.S. president tweeted that there's "no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea."

Pompeo, speaking to reporters in Seoul on Wednesday, sought to quell criticism that North Korea made no major commitments at Tuesday's summit in Singapore.

"We're hopeful that we can achieve that in, what was it, the next two and half years," the top American diplomat said when asked how soon the U.S. wanted to see North Korea move to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. "We're hopeful we can get it done. There's a lot of work left to do."

Even as Pompeo staunchly defended the summit results, he was less exuberant than Trump, who tweeted on his return to the U.S. on Monday morning: "Just landed -- a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea."

Trump has come under increasing criticism because the 1 1/2-page statement that he and Kim Jong Un signed in Singapore spelled out no specific commitments from North Korea aside from working toward the "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," a promise the regime has repeatedly made and broken since the 1990s.

Pompeo arrived in Seoul on Wednesday evening and will meet Thursday with senior South Korean and Japanese leaders to brief them on the June 12 summit before continuing on to Beijing.

For weeks, Pompeo and other officials have insisted North Korea must agree to "complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization" before economic sanctions can be lifted. Pompeo told reporters that the language used in the document encompassed those demands, even though they weren't spelled out.

"I suppose we could argue semantics, but let me assure you it's in the document," Pompeo said. "I am confident that they understand what we're prepared to do, the handful of things that we're likely not prepared to do." He added, "I am equally confident that they understand there will be in-depth verification."

Bridling at a question from a reporter who asked why the summit document didn't mention complete and verifiable denuclearization, 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 skepticism 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," Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said 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."

Pompeo said 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."

While saying Trump is "in the lead" on follow-up negotiations, Pompeo said, "I will be the person driving this process forward." He predicted he will have his next conversation with the North Koreans "fairly quickly after we return to our home countries" and within "the next week or so."

Pompeo also sought to counter concerns that North Korea and the U.S. came away from the talks with fundamentally different interpretations. Earlier Wednesday, North Korea's state KCNA news agency said denuclearization would be a "step by step process" with "simultaneous action," a stance that appeared to contradict the U.S. refusal to offer sanctions relief before North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons.

"I'm going to leave the content of our discussions between the two parties, but one should heavily discount some things that are written in other places," Pompeo said.


--With assistance from Jennifer Epstein.