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Pompeo hints at leeway on sanctions

Apr 12,2019
In an effort to revive stalled negotiations with North Korea, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that Washington could offer a little flexibility in regard to sanctions on the country.

Speaking at the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Pompeo said it was necessary to use some discretion in implementing sanctions on the North Korean regime. The remark came as Seoul and Washington are looking for ways to reopen negotiations with Pyongyang after the collapse of the summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February.

“I want to leave a little space there,” said Pompeo, when asked by a senator whether he agrees that no sanctions should be lifted until North Korea demonstrates a commitment to complete and verifiable denuclearization. “From time to time, there are particular provisions that if we were making substantial progress that one might think that was the right thing to do to achieve. Sometimes it’s visas. I want to leave a little room. “The enforcement regime, the core UN Security Council resolutions, needs to remain in place until the verification of denuclearization has been completed,” he added.

Pompeo’s remarks were a bit gentler than on the previous day. In another congressional hearing on Tuesday, Pompeo called North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a tyrant and said sanctions would continue to be enforced on Pyongyang until a “final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea” was accomplished.

The timing was significant. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was to give a speech at the Supreme People’s Assembly Thursday while President Moon Jae-in was to meet U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday, Washington time. Moon was expected to pitch to Trump a phased approach in which Pyongyang is given gradual economic incentives to encourage it to scrap its nuclear and missile programs.

Pompeo’s mention of the word “visas” Wednesday attracted some attention and it was speculated that a work visa ban on North Koreans could be lifted. UN member countries are banned from issuing new guest work permits to North Koreans. The North has exported workers to China, Russia and other countries.

It was also speculated that Washington may lift a travel ban on the North, imposed in 2017 after the death of Otto Warmbier, an American student imprisoned by the communist state.

Speculations also grew that humanitarian assistance could be given to the North. The State Department said Tuesday that Pompeo had met with UN World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley and discussed initiatives to offer nutritional assistance to children, mothers and disaster-affected communities in the North.

At Wednesday’s hearing, critical U.S. lawmakers complained that the administration failed to produce tangible progress although Trump had two summits with Kim. Sen. Ben Cardin asked whether the Trump administration had reached an agreement with Pyongyang on “what the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula would look like,” and Pompeo failed to give a definite answer.

“I can’t answer that question yes or no,” Pompeo said. “We’ve had extensive conversations with the North Koreans about what the full, final denuclearization as verified by the international community would ultimately look like. It would look like the fully denuclearized North Korea. That’s what it would look like.”

Cardin, then, pointed out that Pyongyang has yet to submit an accounting of its nuclear arsenal and how to dismantle it. Pompeo admitted, “There is still a great deal of work to do.”

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]