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Pompeo takes aim at North’s ‘rogue behavior’

Aug 29,2019
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday was defiant in his stance on North Korea’s “rogue behavior,” in what could be seen as retaliation to Pyongyang’s personal criticism of Washington’s top diplomat.

Addressing a prominent U.S. veterans organization on the subject of “Americanism,” Pompeo struck a notably nationalist tone in defining the ideology behind the Donald Trump administration’s foreign policy, vowing that Washington would put its “exceptionalism” at the center.

“Americanism - it means telling the truth about the challenges we face,” Pompeo said, as he conceded to the threats he said were posed from Iran, China and North Korea. “We recognized - we recognized that North Korea’s rogue behavior could not be ignored.”

This “rogue” label from Pompeo is one that the North has heavily objected to in the past, most recently in June after a U.S. security report called the country a “rogue state.”

Pompeo’s remark also follows a hard-line assertion he made in an interview with the Washington Examiner on Aug. 21, when he said the United States would continue to keep sanctions on the North “that are the toughest in all of history.”

This comment prompted a visceral reaction from Pyongyang, whose Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho last Friday called Pompeo a “poisonous plant of American diplomacy” and a “diehard toxin” who was bent on throwing cold water on denuclearization talks, which have yet to resume.

“He is truly impudent enough to utter such thoughtless words which only leave us disappointed and skeptical as to whether we can solve any problem with such a guy,” Ri said, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

Pompeo was one of the key U.S. officials that North Korea demanded be removed from the negotiation process and replaced with a more “mature” figure after the collapse of its second summit with the United States in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February.

This did not dissuade Pompeo from continuing to publicly bring up sanctions. In an interview with NBC also on Tuesday, Pompeo argued Trump was taking the “strongest stance in an awfully long time on North Korea,” having built up a coalition to enforce “global sanctions, not American sanctions” on the North.

This trading of barbs between the two sides suggests talks remain stuck in a rut and are unlikely to resume any time soon, despite the mutual pledge made by Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at their surprise meeting at Panmunjom on June 30 to start discussions “within a few weeks.”

Yet U.S. adversaries like Pyongyang were not the only targets of the policy rationale highlighted in Tuesday’s speech from Pompeo.

“And when it comes to Americanism in our foreign policy, for decades, frankly we just plain ignored it. We didn’t lead,” Pompeo said. “We let the bureaucrats in international organizations lead us. We let our allies shun their responsibilities.”

For South Korea, which is soon set to kick off talks with Washington over burden-sharing for the upkeep of U.S. troops stationed on the peninsula, this remark on shunned responsibilities could be interpreted as a demand that Seoul pick up a larger portion of the bill.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]