Pompeo stresses patience despite sputtering nuke talks

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Pompeo stresses patience despite sputtering nuke talks

Washington is “prepared to be patient” with North Korea, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday, indicating U.S. flexibility despite Pyongyang stalling denuclearization negotiations.

“We’ve known this was going to be a lengthy process,” Pompeo said in a radio interview with Kansas-based KFDI. He noted that U.S. President Donald Trump “made the decision to have a summit” with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on June 12 in Singapore. “And I’ve been tasked with negotiating its resolution. It will take time.”

Pyongyang has been unresponsive to rescheduling high-level bilateral talks this week after a meeting slated for Nov. 8 between Pompeo and Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the Central Committee of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, was canceled at the last minute. The talks, expected to be rescheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday in New York, likely won’t happen this month, as previously speculated.

Pompeo added that Washington will exercise patience and make sure that the North doesn’t conduct nuclear and missiles tests. All while, “the economic sanctions which have caused North Korea to engage with us will remain in place,” countering Pyongyang’s demands for sanctions relief.

In the interview, Pompeo downplayed North Korea’s reports of testing a new tactical weapon earlier this month, and said the United States is “pretty sure” what it is.

Pompeo also pointed out that “there are lots of elements” to the promises made in the June 12 summit between Trump and Kim.

“One of them is the relationship between South Korea and North Korea,” said Pompeo. He added that a new working group between South Korea and the United States “is designed to make sure that that effort, that effort to restore peace on the peninsula, moves in parallel with the denuclearization discussions.”

Lee Do-hoon, South Korea’s special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, and Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, held their first working group meeting on North Korea’s denuclearization in Washington last week. During the meeting, Washington backed Seoul’s plan to conduct a joint survey for an inter-Korean railway project. At the same time, Washington has cautioned against progress in inter-Korean relations outpacing denuclearization negotiations.

On Monday, the South Korean Ministry of Unification said that the two Koreas are in discussions to launch joint inspections of cross-border railways this week after the project was exempted from UN Security Council sanctions on Saturday with a U.S. endorsement, another gesture indicating Washington’s flexibility.

Some U.S. analysts point out that both Pyongyang and Washington seem to both be waiting things out at the moment as they try to negotiate a nuclear deal.

“Right now, the United States is in patience mode,” Frank Jannuzi, president of the Mansfield Foundation, said on the Voice of America Saturday.

“As long as the North is resisting the very concrete, serious steps, the United States is content to apply pressure and wait,” said Jannuzi. “Maybe there is miscalculation going on, because the North Korean side also seems to be waiting.”

On the same program, David Maxwell, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, encouraged North Korea to accept working-level talks with the United States. Maxwell said that Kim Jong-un may be “worried” that professional negotiators “may end up not giving North Korea a good deal,” which is why Kim insists on only holding talks with Trump or Pompeo. Biegun has yet to hold working-level talks with his North Korean counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui.

However, Maxwell continued, “I think also, [Kim Jong-un] might be surprised if he did come to the negotiating table and did allow working level talks to occur. He might see flexibility on the United States’ part.”

While this will not likely be in the form of immediate sanctions relief, Washington could grant “waivers for certain sanctions to help South Korea to engage economically in the North,” said Maxwell.

“We know Kim Jong-un has said he wants to shift to economic development. I think everybody will support that as long as he demonstrates a sincere commitment to dismantling his nuclear program.”

Jannuzi likewise pointed out that “the U.S. side is prepared in a limited way to look at the sanctions portfolio and, on an action-for-action basis, reward North Korea for concrete real steps toward denuclearization,” something which can be ironed out through working-level talks.

Harry J. Kazianis, director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest think tank, wrote in an opinion piece for Washington-based political website The Hill on Sunday that next year could be the “Year of Kim Jong-un.” If he “holds off on testing any nuclear weapons or long-range missiles,” Kazianis wrote, “North Korea could very well escape the diplomatic and economic vise - a.k.a. ‘maximum pressure’ - that the United States has tried to impose.”

Kazianis also argued that the United States “can create a set of conditions that virtually guarantees peace on the Korean Peninsula,” namely by “offering to end the [1950-53] Korean War, once and for all, in exchange for a dramatic gesture of denuclearization by the North.”

This comes as Kim Jong-un is expected to hold summits soon with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping in Pyongyang, South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul and later possibly Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in addition to a potential second summit with U.S. President Trump.

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