Concerns about North Korea denuclearisation overshadow Mike Pompeo’s visit
The US secretary of state is visiting Pyongyang for the first time since Donald Trump’s Singapore summit with Kim Jong Un.
As US secretary of state Mike Pompeo prepares to travel this week to North Korea, experts cautioned that the Trump administration’s plan to dismantle the North’s nuclear weapons and missiles in a year is both unrealistic and risky.
The State Department said Mr Pompeo would arrive on Friday on his third visit to Pyongyang in three months.
It will be the first visit by a senior US official since President Donald Trump’s historic meeting with Kim Jong Un on June 12 in Singapore, where the North Korean leader committed to “complete denuclearisation” of the Korean Peninsula.
Many good conversations with North Korea-it is going well! In the meantime, no Rocket Launches or Nuclear Testing in 8 months. All of Asia is thrilled. Only the Opposition Party, which includes the Fake News, is complaining. If not for me, we would now be at War with North Korea!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2018
Mr Trump’s questionable claim afterwards that the North was no longer a nuclear threat was soon displaced by doubts about how to achieve denuclearisation, a goal that has eluded US administrations for the past quarter-century since Pyongyang began producing fissile material for bombs.
The president tweeted on Tuesday that talks on the next steps with North Korea are “going well” and claimed his efforts had defused any nuclear threat.
“If not for me, we would now be at War with North Korea!” Mr Trump tweeted.
He said: “no Rocket Launches or Nuclear Testing in 8 months. All of Asia is thrilled.”
But experts say there is no proof North Korea’s halt of nuclear and missile tests means the North will take concrete steps to give up such weapons.
@SecPompeo will be traveling to #Pyongyang to continue consultations and implement the forward progress made by @POTUS and Chairman Kim in #Singapore. The Secretary will also travel to #Tokyo, #Hanoi, #AbuDhabi, and #Brussels July 5-12. pic.twitter.com/4GWOYm0yJP— Morgan Ortagus (@statedeptspox) July 2, 2018
They also say the US has an unrealistic approach to North Korea’s denuclearisation.
Less than three weeks ago, Mr Pompeo said the United States wanted North Korea to take “major” nuclear disarmament steps within the next two years, before the end of Mr Trump’s first term in January 2021.
Even that was viewed as bullish by non-proliferation experts considering the scale of North Korea’s weapons programme and its history of evasion and reluctance to allow verification of disarmament agreements.
On Sunday, Mr Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, publicised the more ambitious one-year plan that he said Mr Pompeo will be discussing with the North Koreans.
Mr Bolton, who has expressed hardline views on North Korea, said that if Pyongyang has decided to give up its nuclear weapons programme and is cooperative, then “we can move very quickly” and they can win sanctions relief and aid from South Korea and Japan.
The rapid timeline he proposed contrasts with more measured, methodical strategies that most North Korea experts insist are needed to produce a lasting denuclearisation agreement.
They say any solid deal will require Mr Kim to be completely transparent about his programme, at a time when intelligence reports suggest he will try to deceive the United States about the extent of his covert weapons or facilities.
The one-year plan is predicated on the North Koreans “rolling over and playing dead”, said Joel Wit, a former State Department official who helped negotiate a 1994 agreement that temporarily froze Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.
“If it’s our going-in position, it’s fine. We should give it a try and see where it goes.
“If it’s our bottom line, it’s dead on arrival and then provides a pretext for John Bolton to make mischief.”
To date, Mr Kim has halted nuclear and missile tests and has destroyed tunnels at the North’s nuclear test site, but the authoritarian nation has yet to take concrete steps toward abandoning its weapons programmes.