Washington: US negotiators and their North Korean counterparts discussed the idea of Pyongyang making a full declaration of its weapons of mass destruction stockpiles and setting a timeline for giving them up, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said after two days of talks in the country.
“These are complicated issues but we made progress on almost all of the central issues,’’ Pompeo told reporters on the airport tarmac before leaving Pyongyang, following his third visit to North Korea. “We had productive, good-faith negotiations."
Pompeo said that North Korea, in the “many hours of talks’’ at a walled-off guesthouse outside downtown Pyongyang, reiterated its commitment to denuclearization. The North Korean delegation was led by Kim Yong Chol, a senior aide to the country’s leader. Kim ended Pompeo’s visit on a positive note, telling the top US diplomat just before he boarded his plane, “We will produce an outcome, results.’’
For now, those results must remain in the future. Pompeo, who did not meet with the country’s leader Kim Jong Un on this trip, could point to no concrete achievement from the talks aside from an agreement for the two sides to meet around 12 July in Panmunjom, the border village between the two Koreas, to discuss returning the remains of US soldiers from the 1950-1953 Korean War.
He said North Korea had confirmed it intended to destroy a missile-engine testing facility and the two sides discussed the “modalities’’ of what that would look like. The countries also agreed to create working groups that will be overseen by Sung Kim, the US ambassador to the Philippines who has handled some lower-level discussions, to work out what State Department spokeswoman called the “nitty gritty details’’ of future talks.
While Pompeo hailed progress from the talks, the results he announced on Saturday will do little to quell unease that North Korea’s commitment to denuclearization, made when President Donald Trump met with Kim Jong Un in Singapore last month, is a facade and it has no intention of giving up its weapons.
Critics and analysts who study North Korea have argued that the country’s commitment to the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,’’ as spelled out in a joint declaration from the Singapore summit, doesn’t go as far as other promises to give up its nuclear weapons that North Korea had made — and reneged upon — many times in the past.
In recent days, intelligence reports have shown that North Korea is continuing work at a key rocket-engine facility. The US has also stopped using the catchphrase of “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization’’ of North Korea that it had insisted upon happening before North Korea gets any relief from a crippling sanctions regime. That change raised suspicion that the US was softening its demands for the country, an argument that State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert had insisted on Friday wasn’t true.
Pompeo has bristled at the idea that the Singapore declaration amounted to an empty promise, saying repeatedly that Kim Jong Un had assured him in private conversations he was ready to give up his nuclear arms.
But fissures have emerged in the US stance. Last week, Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton said North Korea could be expected to carry out the “bulk’’ of denuclearization within a year. Yet Pompeo himself had earlier said he envisioned that occurring in about two and a half years, by the end of Trump’s term, and Nauert later said the US wasn’t putting a timeline on the process.
Before events in Pyongyang had concluded, Nauert told reporters that Pompeo had been “very firm" in insisting that North Korea fulfills its commitment to “complete denuclearization." She said the two sides had also discussed the return of the remains of American troops killed during the Korean War.
Pompeo’s visit represents the highest level meeting between US and North Korean officials since Trump and Kim Jong Un held their unprecedented summit in Singapore on 12 June. The secretary is under pressure to deliver a more concrete disarmament plan after the two leaders signed a vague 1-1/2 page document that didn’t provide a timetable for dismantling North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.