The North Korean government on Friday declared it is ready for either “dialogue or stand-off” with the United States on denuclearization, warned Washington not to impose any further sanctions against the regime, and demanded “diehard toxin” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be taken out of the loop for any further negotiations.
These pronouncements came from North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho during an interview with Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Ri said North Korea is running out of patience waiting for the U.S. to decide how it wants to proceed.
“We have already given ample explanation enough to be understood by the U.S. side and we have also given it enough time out of maximum patience. We are ready for both dialogue and stand-off,” he said.
If negotiations resume, Ri said “nothing decent can be expected” from Secretary of State Pompeo, who he described as a “troublemaker bereft of sensible cogitative power.”
“He sure seems to be more interested in realizing his future political ambition rather than the current foreign policy of the U.S.,” Ri alleged. “All things into which Pompeo thrusts himself go wrong and end up in failure.”
This was evidently a reference to rumors in American political media that Pompeo is contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate from Kansas after completing his tenure as Secretary of State. Pompeo has ruled out such a run in 2020 on several occasions and said he will remain at the State Department for as long as President Donald Trump wants him there, but some Republican strategists believe Pompeo would be an exceptionally strong candidate for the seat.
Ri’s ire was evidently stoked by Pompeo’s recent statement that sanctions pressure will be maintained against North Korea until complete and verifiable denuclearization has been achieved.
The North Korean foreign minister said his American opposite number was a “diehard toxin of U.S. diplomacy” who delivers “hackneyed sanctions rhetoric.” (The Associated Press translated Ri’s insult as “poisonous plant of American diplomacy,” but “Diehard Toxin” would be a much better name for a garage band, should Pompeo decide on music instead of the Senate as his next career step.)
“He is truly impudent enough to utter such thoughtless words which only leave us disappointed and skeptical as to whether we can solve any problem with such a guy,” Ri grumbled.
“If the U.S. still dreams a pipe dream of gaining everything through sanctions, we are left with two options, either to leave it enjoying the dream to its heart’s content or to wake it up from the dream,” he said.
Belligerent and confrontational rhetoric are nothing new from North Korea, and do not always reveal the regime’s real perspective. Reuters noted on Friday that the South Koreans are actually quite optimistic that nuclear talks will resume soon, Pyongyang having expressed its displeasure over U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises to a satisfying degree with a string of missile tests.
Secretary of State Pompeo was notably more concerned with these missile launches than President Trump appeared to be. The U.S. has a designated a special envoy, Stephen Biegun, running point on negotiations with North Korea, so Pompeo’s involvement could easily be minimized to placate Pyongyang a little without making it seem like the Trump administration is caving to its demands and benching the secretary of state for the rest of the game.
The administration will, however, wish to continue communicating the point Pompeo constantly makes to such an outraged reaction from the North Koreans: nothing less than verifiable denuclearization will get those sanctions lifted.