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Pompeo heads to North Korea to start detailed nuclear negotiations

July 04,2018
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Mike Pompeo
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will make a three-day trip to Pyongyang starting Thursday to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and other officials, announced the White House and State Department Monday, to discuss a more concrete roadmap to denuclearization negotiations following the June 12 Singapore summit.

Pompeo’s third trip to Pyongyang comes three weeks after the June 12 summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim where they produced a joint statement that committed the North to “complete denuclearization” in turn for security guarantees, along with “follow-on negotiations,” without clarifying a timeline for dismantlement or a process toward declaration of its arsenal, inspections and verification.

“To continue the ongoing and important work of denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, Secretary Pompeo will be leaving for North Korea on July 5 to meet with the North Korean leader and his team,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, in a briefing Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of State later that day confirmed that Pompeo will be traveling to Pyongyang, Tokyo, Hanoi, Abu Dhabi and Brussels from Thursday to July 12.

Heather Nauert, spokesperson of the State Department, said through a statement, “Secretary Pompeo will travel to Pyongyang, July 5-7, to continue consultations and implement the forward progress made by President Trump and Chairman Kim in Singapore.”

During his trip to Tokyo over Saturday and Sunday, Pompeo was set to meet with South Korean and Japanese officials to “discuss our shared commitment to the final, fully verified denuclearization” of North Korea, a newly minted term that is being referred to in media as “FFVD,” and is considered more concrete than the “complete denuclearization” stipulated in the North-U.S. agreement.

Washington has said it stands by its call for the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization, or CVID, of North Korea. However, the joint agreement of June 12 signed by Trump and Kim in Singapore stopped short of including this full terminology and instead committed to a “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The Trump administration claims that this concept encompasses the notions of verifiability and irreversibility.

But Pompeo introduced the terminology of FFVD in a tweet Saturday, congratulating the swearing in of Harry Harris, former chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, as the new U.S. ambassador to Korea, and wrote, “A lot of work ahead on maintaining our ironclad alliance with #ROK and achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization of the #DPRK, as agreed to by Chairman Kim.” He referred to the acronym for the formal name of South Korea, the Republic of Korea, and North Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Pompeo in early May coined the term “permanent, verifiable, irreversible dismantling,” or PVID, of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, terminology that seemed to indicate a more hard-line approach to denuclearization.

When asked how the concept of FFVD differs from CVID, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk told reporters in Seoul Tuesday, “That terminology has been coined by media. It is to my understanding that the United States’ fundamental position has not changed.”

The spokesman elaborated on Pompeo’s trip, “This is the first high-level meeting between North Korea and the United States following the June 12 Singapore summit, so we look forward to amicable discussions to enable the quick implementation of the denuclearization negotiations and various other issues.”

Noh also said in a briefing that a trilateral meeting among South Korea, Japan and the United States is “being discussed” at the moment without giving further details on its format.

When asked about the possibility of Pompeo stopping by Seoul en route to Pyongyang, Noh said the ministry had nothing to remark on at the moment.

“South Korea and the United States are closely communicating and cooperating on the North Korea issue,” said Noh. “However, it is not appropriate for us to remark on the content of U.S. Secretary Pompeo’s negotiations for his North Korea trip.”

Pompeo last visited Seoul on June 14 to brief South Korean and Japanese officials on the results of the Singapore summit.

Sanders in her press briefing Monday did not confirm or deny reports citing U.S. intelligence officials concluding that North Korea does not intend to fully surrender its nuclear stockpile.

“What I can tell you is that we’re continuing to make progress,” she said, adding that there is a “momentum in the process,” referring to diplomatic talks which happened at Panmunjom on Sunday, which she said were “good meetings.”

A team of U.S. negotiators led by Sung Kim, the ambassador to the Philippines and former negotiator in denuclearization talks with the North, met with North Korean diplomats led by Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui in the truce village of Panmunjom at the inter-Korean border on Sunday to flesh out details of the June 12 joint agreement. This agreement specifically named Pompeo to lead the U.S. negotiators, but did not specifically name his counterpart, described as a “relevant high-level DPRK official.”

The diplomatic teams led by Ambassador Kim and Vice Minister Choe held multiple talks up to the eve of the Kim-Trump summit and had been ironing out the mechanics of denuclearization negotiations ahead of their leaders’ meeting.

“We’ve had good conversations as recently as yesterday,” said Sanders on the diplomats’ meeting. “And we’re going to continue those conversations later this week, and push forward.”

When asked by a reporter to elaborate on what “progress” entails, Sanders noted that North Korea hasn’t conducted any ballistic missiles launches or nuclear tests over the past eight months.

“These conversations are continuing to evolve,” she said. “I’m not going to get into the details, but I can tell you that progress continues to be made.”

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton told CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday that the United States could dismantle North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs “within a year” if the North Koreans made a “strategic decision” and committed to scrapping their arsenal in accordance with the agreement reached in Singapore last month.

Sanders endorsed such a time frame, saying, “As far as the one-year timeline, Ambassador Bolton said if North Korea makes the decision, their nuclear and ballistic missile programs could be dismantled in a year. There’s great momentum right now for positive change, and we’re moving together for further negotiations.”

Bolton said in the CBS interview that U.S. experts devised a program entailing North Korea’s “full disclosure of all of their chemical and biological nuclear programs and ballistic missile sites.”

He added that Secretary Pompeo “will be discussing this with the North Koreans in the near future about really how to dismantle all of their WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and ballistic missile programs in a year if they have the strategic decision.” Bolton said that “it’s to North Korea’s advantage” to do so quickly “because then the elimination of sanctions aid by South Korea and Japan and others can all begin to flow.”

This was in contrast to Pompeo’s remark to CNN last month that he would not “put a timeline” for denuclearization.

In the weeks leading up to the unprecedented North-U.S. summit, Bolton, considered a hard-liner on the North, is seen to have played a role of a bad cop, advocating the 2003 Libyan model of denuclearization, which the North has balked at, nearly upsetting summit preparations. Pompeo, in turn, has played the role of a good cop, having visited Pyongyang twice.

Pompeo, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, made a secret visit to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong-un at the beginning of April, then a second trip in May. In turn, Kim Yong-chol, the vice chairman of the North Korean Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, who is also in charge of inter-Korean affairs, made a rare trip to New York and Washington, hand-delivering a letter from Kim Jong-un to President Trump at the start of June, putting back on track preparations for the first North-U.S. summit.

On recent reports that a second summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim was being planned for September in New York, coinciding with the United Nations General Assembly meeting, Sanders responded that there are no “plans to roll out at this point.”

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