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U.S. stance on timetable for North keeps altering

July 05,2018
The U.S. State Department said Tuesday it wouldn’t “provide a timeline” for North Korea to complete its denuclearization, an apparent rebuke of John Bolton’s remarks earlier that the North could finish the process “within a year.”

“In terms of a timeline, I know some individuals have given timelines,” said Heather Nauert, the spokeswoman of the State Department at a press briefing Tuesday, apparently referring to Bolton, the U.S. national security adviser.

“We’re not going to provide a timeline for that,” she continued.

On Sunday, Bolton said in a CBS interview 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” to get rid of its nuclear arsenal in accordance with a joint agreement from the North Korea-U.S. summit last month in Singapore.

“Physically we would be able to dismantle the overwhelming bulk of their programs within a year,” Bolton, known for his hard-line stance on the North, said.

The White House appeared to support Bolton’s comment with Sarah Sanders, the spokeswoman, saying Monday, “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” and there’s “great momentum right now.”

But with the latest remark from the State Department, Washington appears to be giving Pyongyang a little space when it comes to denuclearization with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo scheduled to begin his third trip to Pyongyang today.

The country’s top diplomat is likely to meet with North Korean leader Kim to discuss in detail the denuclearization process, especially with what the North can do next.

Aside from the North’s closure of the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site and suspension of missile and nuclear tests for over eight months, the North has yet to make steps towards denuclearization since the landmark June 12 Kim-Donald Trump summit.

Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang this week has sparked many questions as to whether he will return home with any tangible steps toward denuclearization.

Nauert said the North Koreans were very “clear” on what the United States wants from them: complete denuclearization.

“I think the Secretary has addressed that extensively, in which he said that North Korea is very clear in terms of our expectations. We’ve had very clear conversations with them,” she noted.

In the joint statement from the June 12 Singapore summit, the North and the United States agreed on the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula, stopping well short of the so-called CVID framework, which stands for complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. On Saturday, Pompeo said the United States was looking for the “final, fully verified denuclearization” of the North, introducing a new acronym, FFVD.

President Trump tweeted Tuesday, “If not for me, we would now be at War with North Korea!” while pointing out dialogue with Pyongyang was “going very well.”

Following his three-day visit to Pyongyang, which concludes on Saturday, Pompeo will meet with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha in Tokyo to share details of his meetings with North Korean officials.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]