Pompeo alters wording on nukes

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Pompeo alters wording on nukes


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, is congratulated by U.S. President Donald Trump as Pompeo’s wife, Susan, and Vice President Mike Pence look on during a ceremony at the State Department in Washington on Wednesday. [AP]

Mike Pompeo, the new U.S. secretary of state, declared on Wednesday that Washington is committed to the “permanent, verifiable, irreversible dismantling” of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction program (WMD), introducing terminology that could indicate a more hard-line approach to denuclearization.

“Right now, we have an unprecedented opportunity to change the course of history on the Korean Peninsula,” said Pompeo during his swearing-in ceremony at the State Department in Washington ahead of a high-stakes leaders’ summit between North Korea and the United States in the coming weeks.

U.S. President Donald Trump also made his first visit to the State Department to take part in the ceremony, a conspicuous endorsement of Pompeo as his new top diplomat.

“We are committed to the permanent, verifiable, irreversible dismantling of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction program, and to do so without delay,” Pompeo said, elaborating that this involves “team effort at the State Department and the whole of the United States government.”

Pompeo’s use of the term “permanent” is a slight departure from the expression that has customarily been used by Washington up to now: the complete verifiable, irreversible dismantlement, or CVID, of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

“It’s time to solve this once and for all,” Pompeo said at the ceremony. “A bad deal is not an option. The American people are counting on us to get this right.”

While acknowledging that they are at the “beginning stages of the work,” and that the outcome is “yet unknown,” Pompeo added that the Trump administration’s “eyes are wide open” and that it will not repeat the mistakes of the past. Trump has said that his administration will announce the location and date of his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the coming days.

Some observers immediately pointed out that Pompeo’s raising of what is being called the “PVID” of the North’s WMD program could indicate a new direction in U.S. policy toward Pyongyang’s denuclearization. “Permanent” could be seen to indicate a step beyond “complete” to further ensure that the dismantling of the nuclear weapons program is irreversible.

But the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the change in terminology used by Washington does not necessarily mean a change in meaning.

“Fundamentally, there is a difference in the terminology between CVID and PVID, but we do not view there is a difference in its meaning,” said Noh Kyu-duk, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said in a briefing in Seoul on Thursday. “Furthermore, no matter how you phrase denuclearization, regardless of the terminology, I would like to say that South Korea and the United States hold the firm joint objective of resolving the North Korean nuclear issue completely.”

However, Noh admitted, “We are not clear if PVID is an expression that will replace CVID.”

In March, Trump named Pompeo, seen to be a hard-liner on North Korea, after firing his first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who was considered somewhat more dovish.

Pompeo, then director of the Central Intelligence Agency, made a top-secret visit to Pyongyang at the beginning of April, over Easter weekend, to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The White House released photos of Pompeo with Kim last Friday coinciding with the inter-Korean summit held on April 27 during which the two sides pledged the shared goal of the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula and to “establish a permanent and solid peace regime.”

During his summit with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, North Korean leader Kim said he would shut down the Punggye-ri nuclear test site by May and invited U.S. and South Korean experts and journalists to inspect its demolition.

North Korea has started pulling cables from the tunnels at their nuclear test site, a first step toward closing them down, reported CBS News on Wednesday, citing U.S. intelligence sources.

John Bolton, the White House national security adviser, told CBS News on Sunday, “They’ve said that they’re going to give up nuclear testing and ballistic missile testing” and have not conducted any tests recently.

“That could be a very positive sign,” he continued, “or it could be a sign that they’ve reached the level of development where they don’t need testing now.”

Bolton said in addition to the 1992 joint North-South denuclearization agreement, in which North Korea committed to giving up nuclear weapons and uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing, now there are “other issues to discuss as well” such as the North’s ballistic missiles program, biological and chemical weapons programs and detaining of American hostages.

Bolton went on to point out that Trump is “determined to see this opportunity through” and is hopeful to “get a real breakthrough” but that the United States is not naive either.

Bolton suggested allowing American observers to inspect North Korea’s nuclear-related sites, as in the case of Libya, adding that while North Korea’s gesture doesn’t have to be the same, “it’s got to be something concrete and tangible.”

He continued, “It’s up to the North Koreans to show us that they really do intend to give up nuclear weapons.”

According to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, Washington under the George W. Bush administration requested the complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program during the first round of six-party talks in August 2003. Earlier in the Bush administration, the United States used the term “verifiable and irreversible dismantlement,” but “complete” was added to include North Korea’s highly enriched uranium program, it added.

Late Wednesday, Trump hinted at the release of three Korean-Americans detained by North Korea over Twitter.

He tweeted: “As everybody is aware, the past Administration has long been asking for three hostages to be released from a North Korean Labor camp, but to no avail. Stay tuned!”

The Financial Times reported that the three detainees have been relocated from a labor camp to a hotel near Pyongyang and are getting medical treatment ahead of a planned summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim, though this has yet to be confirmed by U.S. officials.

This fueled speculation that the three male detainees, two of whom were imprisoned last year and one since 2015, may be released as a goodwill gesture leading up to or during the North Korea-U.S. summit.

The U.S. State Department, in a statement released by spokesperson Heather Nauert on the same day, recognized North Korea Freedom Week, and said, “We must not forget the millions of North Koreans who continue to suffer under one of the most repressive and abusive governments in the world.”

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