Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel to North Korea on July 5 to continue talks with Kim Jong Un’s government, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday.
Pompeo’s visit follows the historic June summit between Kim and President Donald Trump in Singapore. The secretary of state, making his third trip to North Korea, will seek answers about Kim’s intentions after new intelligence suggested the country has continued to ramp up its nuclear capabilities.
The trip represents the highest-level exchange between the two sides since Trump and Kim met and agreed to work toward “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” without establishing a framework or guideposts for achieving that goal. Trump administration officials have deflected criticism of the agreement, describing it as the first step in a negotiated process to persuade Kim to give up his nuclear weapons.
But new doubts about Kim’s intentions have been raised in recent days as independent researchers and media organizations detailed North Korean efforts to increase fuel production, build more missile launchers and expand a key rocket-engine manufacturing facility.
“This meeting is absolutely critical,” said Sue Mi Terry, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “One can argue that the North Koreans are doing all of this to get maximum concessions out of the United States if and when they decide to give up their nuclear program. But at some point they have to sit down and actually produce something. Maybe this trip, but I’m not holding my breath.”
The two sides have expressed different expectations for the pace and sequence of North Korea’s disarmament and relief from international sanctions. While Trump said North Korea would see economic penalties relaxed only after he has “completely denuclearized,” Kim has advocated a “step-by-step” process.
In testimony before a U.S. Senate committee, Pompeo declined to go into specifics but suggested the scope of what the U.S. has in mind. He said that would include transparency by North Koreans about the nuclear material they have, the engineering of it and the missiles that would deliver those nuclear weapons as well as other weapons of mass destruction.
Speaking Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” National Security Adviser John Bolton said Pompeo would visit North Korea to discuss “how to dismantle all of their WMD and ballistic missile programs in a year.”
But Pompeo, Trump’s point man for talks, said last month in Seoul that the U.S. would seek “major disarmament” from North Korea by the end of Trump’s first term, or about two and a half years from now.
Still, there are gestures both sides could make to build trust along the lines of the U.S. president’s unilateral decision to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea planned for August.
The secretary of state may press North Korea to allow the recovery of some of the almost 7,700 soldiers still unaccounted for after the 1950-53 Korean War, the most concrete agreement to come out of Trump-Kim summit. U.S. officials have said that North Korea has already identified about 200 sets of remains that could be quickly recovered.
The last time Pompeo was in Pyongyang, in May, he secured the release of three American prisoners, a goodwill gesture that help lay the groundwork for the summit.
(c) 2018, Bloomberg · Nick Wadhams, Kanga Kong, Margaret Talev