U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured reporters in a joint press conference with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts in Seoul Thursday that the United States is not considering removing sanctions on North Korea until its nuclear program verifiably ceases to exist.
Pompeo made similar remarks Wednesday in Seoul, expressing frustration with reporters who questioned why a joint statement on denuclearization signed by President Donald Trump and dictator Kim Jong-un did not include language that Pompeo had previously stated would be necessary to broker a deal: “complete, verifiable, irreversible” denuclearization.
While the Trump administration has been consistent in stating publicly that it would not lift sanctions on the regime before denuclearization was complete, North Korea’s state media have repeatedly stated that Trump said something else in private with Kim.
During his joint press briefing with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, Pompeo insisted that Kim Jong-un, following his meeting with Trump Tuesday, understood that no sanctions relief would come until he began dismantling his nuclear program in earnest.
We believe that Chairman Kim Jong-un understands the urgency of the timing of completing this denuclearization, that he understands that we must do this quickly, and that sanctions relief – we should recall these are UN sanctions – that sanctions relief cannot take place until such time as we have demonstrated that North Korea has been completely denuclearized.
“Let me be very blunt. President Trump has been incredibly clear about the sequencing of denuclearizations and relief from the sanctions,” Pompeo added. “We’re going to get complete denuclearization; only then will there be relief from the sanctions.”
Pompeo insisted that “complete” denuclearization would require verification and proof that the process was irreversible, that North Korea could not immediately restart its nuclear program if talks hit a wall.
During a press briefing in Seoul Wednesday, Pompeo chided reporters who questioned why the words “irreversible” and “verifiable” were not part of Trump and Kim’s Singapore declaration.
“A lot has been made of the fact that the word ‘verifiable’ didn’t appear in the agreement. Let me assure you that the ‘complete’ encompasses verifiable in the minds of everyone concerned. One can’t completely denuclearize without validating, authenticating – you pick the word,” Pompeo stated.
When a reporter noted that the words “verifiable” and “irreversible” were not in the statement, Pompeo said that was “just wrong” and that those words were there. The text of the joint statement reads, “The DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
“Just so you know, you could ask me this – I find that question insulting and ridiculous and, frankly, ludicrous,” Pompeo said of a question on why the words were not in the statement. “I just have to be honest with you. It’s a game, and one ought not play games with serious matters like this.”
Pompeo also noted he was “not concerned” that North Korean state media had repeatedly said that Trump had agreed to lift sanctions on the rogue communist regime.
“I am confident that they understand what we’re prepared to do, a handful of things we’re likely not prepared to do. … I am equally confident they understand that there will be in-depth verification,” Pompeo insisted.
North Korea’s state newspaper Rodong Sinmun announced Wednesday that Trump had agreed to lift sanctions on the regime following the “epoch-making meeting much awaited by the whole world” between Kim and Trump. On Thursday, North Korean state television finally aired footage of the meeting between the president and the dictator, again stating Trump had agreed to lift sanctions on the regime.
The sanctions are considered the heaviest ever put on the Kim regime. When they finally passed the United Nations Security Council late last year, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry called them “an act of war violating peace and stability in the Korean peninsula.”
“There is no more fatal blunder than the miscalculation that the U.S. and its followers could check by already worn-out ‘sanctions’ the victorious advance of our people who have brilliantly accomplished the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force,” the statement warned.
Trump did announce an end to joint military exercises with South Korea after his meeting with Kim.
“We will be stopping the war games which will save us a tremendous amount of money, unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should. But we’ll be saving a tremendous amount of money, plus I think it’s very provocative,” Trump said on Tuesday.
That statement appeared to be a surprise to the South Korean government, which issued a statement saying it still needed to figure out the exact meaning of Trump’s words. On Thursday, the office of leftist President Moon Jae-in said, “If North Korea implements denuclearization measures and sincere dialogue continues between South Korea and the North, the North and the United States, to ease their hostile relations, the country needs to flexibly change its military pressure against the North in the spirit of building mutual trust as agreed in the Panmunjom Declaration.”