Pompeo admits Kim Jong-un never really made up his mind
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged in an interview Tuesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has “yet to make a decision” on whether to follow through on his commitment to denuclearize.
Recalling Kim’s pledges to denuclearize at summits with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore and Hanoi, Vietnam, Pompeo told Bloomberg News, “Unfortunately, we have not achieved that yet. Chairman Kim has not yet made the decision that he is actually prepared to execute that, and so the challenges continue.”
Pompeo, who has helmed North Korea policy for the outgoing Trump presidency, was asked whether there has been any real progress in denuclearization talks with Pyongyang.
He noted that there are “many actions” going on, without elaborating.
North Korea had “a real nuclear capacity when we took office,” said Pompeo, adding that Trump over time “came to believe that the best path forward was to begin a real conversation with them from the most senior levels.”
The first North-U.S. summit was held on June 12, 2018, in Singapore, and Kim and Trump signed a joint statement in which North Korea committed to "the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," and the United States pledged security guarantees. However, little progress has been made in the negotiations after the collapse of the second North-U.S. summit in Hanoi in late February 2019. Kim and Trump reunited later that year for an impromptu third meeting on June 30 in the demilitarized zone at the inter-Korean border.
Pompeo said that Kim, “at the very least, to date,” has not conducted any long-range ballistic missiles or nuclear tests, adding, “testing is required to continue to advance programs that are at a low level of maturity.”
U.S. military, diplomatic and intelligence officials have warned in recent months that North Korea continues to increase its nuclear capability.
Pompeo said, “I am hopeful that one day, Chairman Kim will come to recognize...that the North Korean people would be far better off, that they could have a brighter future if they would acknowledge that this nuclear program that they possess is actually the thing that presents risk to the people of North Korea.”
He added that Pyongyang’s nuclear program is “not something that deters a threat from the United States, who poses no real threat to the North Korean people.”
Analysts have warned of a possible provocation by North Korea around the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20, as Pyongyang has often demonstrated its military capacity during the transition period between American governments, possibly to gain leverage with the new administration.
However, Gen. Robert Abrams, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said in a virtual forum Tuesday, “We're not seeing any indicators that suggest that there would be a major provocation,” though this could change.
The Biden administration at the moment does not appear to prioritize dialogue with North Korea, especially with its immediate focus on Covid-19 and unifying a divided country.
North Korean leader Kim admitted his own failure to meet economic development goals in a rare congress of the ruling Workers’ Party Wednesday, a possible indication that Pyongyang will also be focused on domestic woes for the time being. This contrasts to Kim in his New Year’s message last year warning that North Korea will unveil a “new strategic weapon.”
While North Korea displayed a massive new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in a military parade on Oct. 10, it has otherwise laid low since Biden’s election victory.
Biden’s foreign policy team is shaping up to resemble the Barack Obama administration’s team, with Antony Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state, named as secretary of state.
Politico reported Tuesday that veteran diplomat Wendy Sherman, an under secretary of state for political affairs in the Obama administration and a lead negotiator in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, will be nominated as Biden’s deputy secretary of state.
Sherman previously served as a special adviser to former U.S. President Bill Clinton and as a policy coordinator on North Korea. She traveled with Clinton's U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Pyongyang in October 2000 and could be a rare Biden administration official who actually met the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
Clinton left office before being able to strike a deal with North Korea on limiting its nuclear and missile programs.
In an Asia Society panel in New York on June 13, 2018, Sherman described her experience negotiating with Pyongyang.
“Negotiations are not about trust, ever," she said. "They might be about respect...I’ve never trusted the Iranians, I’ve never trusted the North Koreans.”
In a U.S. presidential debate in October, Biden said he will only meet with Kim “on the condition that he would agree that he would be drawing down his nuclear capacity.”
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]