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Officials tell Congress North isn’t doing enough

Mar 29,2019
A number of U.S. diplomatic and military officials overseeing Asian affairs, including U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, testified to Congress on Wednesday that North Korea has yet to take action on denuclearization.

In a hearing at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in Washington, Pompeo said “We have not seen them make the big move that we were hoping frankly they would do in Hanoi.”

The second North-U.S. summit on Feb. 27 and 28 in Hanoi, Vietnam, failed to produce an agreement as the two sides could not agree on the level of denuclearization measures required for sanctions relief for the North. “It’s time we begin to see real actions in that regard,” said Pompeo, saying that North Korea has yet to take a “big step” toward final, fully verified denuclearization.

Pompeo said that Washington remains committed to keeping its pressure campaign on the North and ensuring that United Nations Security Council resolutions are enforced.

Yet Pompeo was ambiguous on clarifying U.S. President Donald Trump’s ambiguous tweet that he was abruptly retracting additional U.S. sanctions on North Korea last Friday.

When asked whether Trump consulted Pompeo ahead of this tweet, the secretary only replied, “They were Treasury sanctions, as I recall.”

Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey asked Pompeo if North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was responsible for human rights atrocities, including the death of American student Otto Warmbier, who was released by Pyongyang in a coma and later died. Pompeo responded, “Don’t make this a political football.”

David Stilwell, the nominee for assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said during his confirmation hearing at the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Wednesday that North Korean sanctions were effective and “releasing that pressure too soon will get us right back where we started.”

Stilwell, a retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general, said, “We’ve been fooled enough times, so the steady pressure will continue to have an effect.”

In his written testimony, Stilwell said that the “iron-clad and decades-long alliance with South Korea is now global in reach, and has only strengthened as we coordinate more closely to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea and welcome it into the family of nations.”

He called North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs the most “urgent” security challenge in the East Asia and Pacific region. He said he will work with officials, including Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative on North Korea, “to maintain international pressure on North Korea.”

Likewise, Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), told the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday that he is “clear-eyed about the fact that - despite a reduction in tensions along the demilitarized zone and a cessation of strategic provocations, coupled with public statements on the intent to denuclearize - little to no verifiable change has occurred in North Korea’s military capabilities.”

Abrams said Washington was “disappointed” in the results of the Hanoi summit and “to date we have not seen movement on denuclearization.”

Abrams noted that the inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement, signed last September during the Pyongyang summit, has “produced a number of nascent confidence-building measures” and “support improved military-to-military communications” among South Korea, North Korea and the United Nations Command, and has also “sparked limited cooperation.”

Yet he noted that while Kim Jong-un in his New Year’s speech at the beginning of the year called for a halt to South Korea-U.S. military exercises, the North Korean military’s drills - in terms of size, scope, and timing - “are consistent with recent years.”

Addressing concerns that canceling or downgrading South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises may affect readiness, Abrams stressed that training has continued and South Korea and the United States have conducted 82 combined military field training exercises since he took command of the USFK last November.

He added that they are also conducting joint naval training exercises, saying, “The biggest difference is we just don’t talk about it publicly.”

Randall Schriver, the U.S. assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, said in the same hearing that the Pentagon will look to President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo for a signal to restart the joint large-scale military exercises between Seoul and Washington.

Schriver said, “We are looking to the president and the secretary of state and their judgement on how the diplomacy will go, and they’ll give us the signal of how to make adjustments in the future if they so determine.”

The Pentagon’s objective, he said, is to “give our diplomats space and maintain readiness,” while publicizing the risks associated with prolonged halting of exercises.

On what happens next with the North, Schriver said, “We’d like them to start by identifying a common, shared definition of what denuclearization means, and then we can build a road map alongside them on how to achieve that. But ultimately it is the full, final, verifiable denuclearization that includes all categories of weapons of mass destruction, missiles and other delivery systems.”

In a written statement, Abrams stressed the effectiveness of diplomacy in reducing tensions in the denuclearization negotiations and highlighted that the “recent Hanoi summit keeps us on this path through a frank exchange of detailed positions and narrowing of the gaps toward possible agreements.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]