Mike Pompeo in North Korea: ‘We’re Not Going to Relieve Sanctions’

Former CIA director Mike Pompeo won Senate support in a vote Thursday to be secretary of state
AFP/File JIM WATSON

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on a flight to North Korea Wednesday that the United States is “not going to relieve sanctions” without having fully eliminated the threat from Kim Jong-un’s rogue communist regime, despite the reported release of unjustly imprisoned Americans in the country.

President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday that Pompeo had left the United States for North Korea to meet with senior officials there and confirm the time, place, and agenda for Trump’s highly anticipated meeting with Kim.

The South Korean newspaper Joongang Ilbo reports that Pompeo, who flew to Pyongyang after landing in Japan, told reporters on the short flight out of Japan that his goal on the trip was to “put in place a framework for a successful summit between the two presidents.” Kim Jong-un’s official title is “Chairman,” which he inherited from his father Kim Jong-il. North Korea in its current state has never elected a president or any other political official.

Pompeo made clear that relief for North Korea’s regime was not imminent. “We’re not going to relieve sanctions until such time as we achieved our objectives,” he told reporters. “We are not going to do this in small increments, where the world is essentially coerced into relieving economic pressure.”

Among those objectives is an end not only to the development of nuclear weapons, but of all intercontinental ballistic missiles, which could theoretically still target the United States with conventional explosives if the nuclear program shut down. Neither the Trump administration nor South Korean officials have publicly discussed requiring North Korea to end its repressive treatment of its own citizens to pull back sanctions, however.

When he arrived, Pompeo met for a business lunch with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yong-chol, which the South Korean news service Yonhap identifies as the “head of the North’s United Front Department handling inter-Korean relations.” At that event, Pompeo issued more conciliatory remarks.

“For decades, we have been adversaries. Now we are hopeful that we can work together to resolve this conflict, take away threats to the world and make your country have all the opportunities your people so richly deserve,” he told those assembled, adding that there would be “many challenges along the way” but applauding Kim Yong-chol as a “great partner” in coordinating the logistics of the Trump-Kim meeting.

Kim Yong-chol reportedly took a moment to decry the international sanctions placed on North Korea for its illegal nuclear weapons program and its extensive history of human rights atrocities, claiming that any diplomatic success in organizing talks with North Korean leaders was “not a result of sanctions that have been imposed from outside.”

The South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo notes, however, that North Korean officials have offered statements contradicting this claim. In December, Ri Chol-ho, identified as an official responsible for fundraising for Kim Jong-un’s personal account, complained in a government newsletter that too many companies and traders were “adhering to U.S. imperialist sanction resolutions,” damaging Kim’s personal net worth and crippling the government’s ability to meet the people’s minimum needs.

“Just take for example [gas stations], which have halted [sales] due to sanctions imposed by the enemy,” Chosun quotes Ri as saying shortly after the United Nations passed a new round of sanctions against the sale of gasoline in large quantities to the country.

Pompeo’s meeting with North Korean officials has since concluded, and at press time, the Associated Press reports that Pompeo has landed in Japan. He is reportedly accompanied by three American citizens – Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim, and Kim Hak-song – detained while in North Korea. The latter two were working as professors in the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), a Christian university open only to the highest-caste members of North Korean society. President Trump announced on Twitter Wednesday morning that the four would arrive in the United States around 2 a.m. local time in Washington, DC, and that Trump would greet them when they landed.

North Korean state media have yet to mention Pompeo’s visit – or that Trump and Kim have agreed to meet in person – at press time. Instead, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) published a piece on Wednesday applauding South Koreans’ alleged calls for reunification, presumably under the Kim regime.

“Strong enthusiasm for national reunification is running high across the 3 000-ri land of Korea after the April 27 special event in Panmunjom,” KCNA claimed, referring to the meeting on that day between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

“The great event in national history which brought about a turning phase in accomplishing the cause of independent reunification is a precious fruition of the firm will of the top leaders of the north and the south to put an end to division and confrontation as soon as possible,” it continued.

The commentary went on to call “foolish” the idea that “support by Trump and neighboring countries” helped make the summit successful. Credit to anyone but North and South Korea for the event occurring is “seriously contrary to the principle of national independence,” the piece argues.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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