Mike Pompeo Begins First Overnight Trip to North Korea

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (C) arrives to board his plane at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on July 5, 2018, to travel to Anchorage, Alaska on his way to Pyongyang. - Pompeo will travel to North Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Abu Dhabi, and Brussels. (Photo by Andrew Harnik …
ANDREW HARNIK/AFP/Getty

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boarded a plane to North Korea early Thursday for his first overnight stay in the rogue communist regime. He is scheduled to hold discussions with high-ranking officials in the country on how to begin defining specifics necessary to implement a plan to end Pyongyang’s illegal nuclear weapons program.

Pompeo is making his third known visit to the country this week after having met with dictator Kim Jong-un on two prior occasions this year as part of talks to finalize the June 12 summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Multiple reports preceding Pompeo’s arrival suggest that he will carry a more conciliatory message for North Korea than some of the Trump administration’s prior attempts to convince the country to abandon its nuclear program or face dire consequences. While Washington has remained firm that North Korea will not enjoy any easing of sanctions until it can prove that it has irrevocably dismantled its nuclear program, a report published in Reuters Thursday claims that Pompeo will fall short of demanding the “complete, verifiable, irreversible” (CVID) denuclearization that American officials have loudly insisted is necessary for any diplomatic progress.

“Two US officials said the Trump administration had stepped back from its CVID demand on South Korea’s advice,” Reuters reported, adding that one American official said that “North Koreans had largely refused in talks with [U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines] Sung Kim to respond to attempts to define the key terms of an eventual agreement, including the words complete, verifiable and irreversible.”

South Korea had also reportedly pressured Washington to soften its demands to keep China and Russia involved in the negotiations. While the South continues to court outside help in fixing relations between the United States and North Korea, who are still technically at war, North Korea has dispatched an official delegation to one of its closest global allies, communist Cuba, to affirm its ties to the country following the appointment of ceremonial president Miguel Díaz-Canel. In his prior position as vice president, Díaz-Canel traveled to Pyongyang and met Kim personally.

While North Korea keeps Cuba close politically, the little momentum to involve Cuba as a major player in denuclearization of North Korea has largely fizzled out since Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first suggested the idea in December.

South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo noted Thursday that Pompeo had appeared to replace the CVID language with “final, fully verified denuclearization” in public statements. The newspaper notes that South Korean Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk refused to confirm the discussions with the United States or the change in terminology, but did state that, “regardless of the terminology, the goal of complete denuclearization, the basic position of the United States, has not changed.”

Noh responded to a question on CVID that the two nations were still holding onto that standard.

Much of both North and South Korean media is focused Thursday not on Pompeo’s travels, but a joint basketball game between teams from the two countries.

The CVID language was absent from the Singapore Declaration, a document jointly signed by Trump and Kim during their first in-person meeting in the Asian city-state. The document instead read, “the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” North Korea has not provided a specific definition for “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” which skeptics believe may be a call to remove American military assets from the region since the U.S. possesses nuclear weapons.

Pompeo nonetheless insisted when pressed by reporters a month later that CVID remains the standard and that it was “in there” despite not literally being written in the declaration.

In remarks Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert appeared to adhere to that message.

“We’ve had very clear conversations with them,” Nauert told reporters, referring to North Korean officials. “There will be no surprises in terms of what we are asking them to do. Our policy remains the same today as it was going into the Singapore summit.”

Nauert also refused to answer questions regarding a denuclearization timeline for North Korea. The State Department has not confirmed remarks made by National Security Advisor John Bolton last weekend that the Trump administration seeks to completely dismantle the North Korean nuclear program within a year once Pyongyang agrees to its demands.

“We’re very well aware of North Korea’s patterns of behavior over decades of negotiating with the United States. We know exactly what the risks are of them using negotiations to drag out the length of time they have to continue their nuclear chemical biological weapons programs and ballistic missiles,” Bolton noted at the time, in sterner language than that which Pompeo has opted for.

Pompeo will follow his visit to Pyongyang with stops in Tokyo and the Middle East. In Tokyo, he will meet counterparts South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono to brief them on his discussion with the North Koreans.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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