Washington/Seoul: US President Donald Trump said he didn’t expect to meet Kim Jong Un until after US elections in November, as the administration struggles to secure denuclearization commitments from North Korea.
The US president said his campaign schedule prevented meetings before the 6 November vote, in which Republican control of Congress hangs in the balance. Still, he said the administration had “made incredible progress" in negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program and was considering three to four locations for a second summit.
“I just can’t leave now," Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One, while en route to a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Earlier, the president had said discussions about a second summit were progressing and that details “won’t be too far away".
Trump and Kim signed a vague agreement in Singapore in June to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," but have so far struggled for a deal on the pace and sequence of steps to achieve that goal. US secretary of state Michael Pompeo came away from meetings Sunday in North Korea without a date for another meeting or news on when key denuclearization milestones might take place.
“The fact that they’ve had these meetings—both with secretary of state Pompeo and with President Trump—and have held back from a clear sign that they’re moving forward, makes me kind of wonder," Christopher Hill, a former US ambassador to South Korea and North Korea negotiator under president George W. Bush, told Bloomberg Television. “I’m not seeing a lot of a time schedule, I’m just seeing, you know, sort of a vague commitment at this point."
Trump said that his second meeting with Kim would be in “probably a different location" than Singapore. North Korean officials have suggested Pyongyang as a site, although that would hand a major propaganda victory to Kim, without him having to make a concession. Prior to that meeting, other sites reportedly under consideration were Geneva and Stockholm.
Trump said “eventually we’re going to have lots of meetings on U.S. soil and on their soil by the way. That’s a two-way street."
Trump emphasized the rapport he says he’s developed with the North Korean leader as they negotiate over US demands that Kim abandon his country’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
Pompeo told a reporter travelling with him Monday that “we made significant progress. We’ll continue to make significant progress, and we are further along in making that progress than any administration in an awfully long time".
He cited Kim’s invitation to have inspectors visit the already dismantled Punggye-ri test facility, the site of all six of the regime’s nuclear blasts. But when asked when inspectors might arrive, Pompeo offered few specifics.
“As soon as we get it logistically worked out, Chairman Kim said he’s ready" to “allow them to come in," and once the arrangements are made “we’ll put them on the ground," Pompeo said.
As part of his delegation to Pyongyang, Pompeo brought along Stephen Biegun, his special representative to North Korea and the diplomat expected to take on more of the day-to-day negotiating with Kim’s regime.
But Biegun never got to meet his likely North Korean counterpart, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Choe Son Hui. Choe was out of the country—meeting officials in Russia and China—when the Americans arrived.