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Trump claims success, but North hasn’t budged

President’s statements contradict assessments by his own aides
June 23,2018
In cabinet meetings and on the stump, U.S. President Donald Trump has been playing up his agreement with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, bragging that the reclusive country’s denuclearization is already starting.

But other government officials, including his closest aides in the West Wing, have said there is no evidence of such activity since the two leaders’ landmark summit on June 12.

In the days since that historic meeting, Trump has taken numerous opportunities to defend his agreement with Kim as he faces mounting scrutiny at home and abroad. But along that course, Trump has made a number of false or misleading statements.

“The relationship is very good,” Trump said on Thursday during a cabinet meeting in the White House. “They’re destroying their engine site. They’re blowing it up.”

The president claimed North Korea had already destroyed “four of their big test sites” and that complete denuclearization was underway, boasting of his administration’s “tremendous success” in dealing with the North.

But U.S. officials familiar with current intelligence on North Korea’s nuclear and missile test sites have found no evidence of new moves from Pyongyang to dismantle any sites since the summit, Reuters reported.

The officials speculated that Trump was referring to explosions last month that the North said destroyed the tunnels in its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, as well as the dismantlement of a medium-range ballistic missile test stand in Iha-ri of North Pyongan Province, along the west coast of the country.

Other than that, the North has not taken any further reported steps.

In a news conference after the summit, Trump said Kim had agreed to destroy a “major engine testing site,” but the North has yet to take any follow-up measures on that, either.

Heather Nauert, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman, told reporters on Thursday that she couldn’t provide a “tick-tock of every step” of North Korea’s long denuclearization progress and refused to say whether Pyongyang had made any concrete moves since June 12. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be meeting with North Korean officials “at the earliest possible date” to flesh out the agreement that Trump and Kim signed in Singapore, Nauert said.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Wednesday that he was “not aware” of any steps that the North was taking to denuclearize after the summit. “The detailed negotiations have not begun,” he said. “I wouldn’t expect that at this point.”

John Bolton, the national security adviser whom Trump has reportedly sidelined to keep peace with the North, told Fox News on Wednesday that Pyongyang had a “decisive and dramatic choice” to make on its nuclear weapons program and said Washington would soon find out whether it was willing to give up its arsenal because diplomatic engagement will proceed quickly.

Bolton stressed that the United States had no interest in lengthy talks. Until Washington has real evidence of denuclearization, sanctions will remain, he added.

Pompeo, who traveled to the North twice before and met Kim each time, echoed Trump’s positive sentiment at the cabinet meeting on Thursday, saying Washington has made “significant progress” with Pyongyang, without elaborating further.

“He has his reputation on the line in the same way that we do,” Pompeo said, referring to Kim. “That says we’re going to create a brighter future for North Korea, we’re going to denuclearize just as quickly as we can achieve that.”

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]