- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2018

President Trump’s denuclearization deal with Kim Jong-un, struck just three weeks ago, will face its first major test Friday, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives in Pyongyang to meet with the North Korean leader to nail down details and a timeline for Pyongyang to dismantle and abandon its nuclear programs.

Despite reports that North Korea is actually continuing to expand nuclear facilities since the June 12 Singapore summit and that U.S. intelligence remains skeptical of Mr. Kim’s intentions, Mr. Pompeo was upbeat as he left Washington on Thursday, tweeting that he was “looking forward” to his third trip this year to Pyongyang.

The White House has sent mixed signals over how aggressive a denuclearization plan Mr. Pompeo plans to present to Mr. Kim when the two meet Friday, after critics said the June 12 agreement was vague and lacked key details.

The State Department rejected the charge Thursday that the administration might be softening its posture on ending the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters traveling with Mr. Pompeo that the administration’s stance has not changed, but she declined to discuss whether the secretary of state will push for deadline of one or two years Mr. Kim to prove to outside inspectors that Pyongyang has abandoned its weapons and nuclear facilities.

Administration advisers have said on background this week that Mr. Pompeo’s immediate goal in Pyongyang will be far more basic: nail down a date in the coming weeks or months by which the North Korean leader must publicly inventory his nation’s nuclear production facilities, weapons and nuclear-capable missiles.

A concrete declaration could answer the criticisms of private analysts who have been quick to pick apart the administration’s follow-up to last month’s historic summit in Singapore, where Mr. Kim signed a joint statement generally committing to the goal of a “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Mr. Pompeo faces pressure to “make something” out of the “empty joint statement” Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim negotiated, Joseph Yun, former U.S. special representative for North Korea policy until March of this year, told CNN on Thursday.

Mr. Pompeo told lawmakers after the Singapore summit that he would like to see a complete disarmament of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities by the end of Mr. Trump’s first term in office — in roughly two-and-a-half years. But National Security Adviser John R. Bolton, who has a reputation as the administration’s most aggressive North Korea hawk, said the North could completely denuclearize in one year if the political will is there in Pyongyang.

Mr. Pompeo steered clear of the timeline issue Thursday, tweeting broadly that he was “looking forward to continuing our work toward the final, fully verified denuclearization of [North Korea], as agreed to by Chairman Kim.”

Mr. Trump, attacking critics of the Singapore accord, tweeted this week that the U.S. has had “many good conversations with North Korea” about a nuclear deal, insisting the North had already made several concessions to the U.S.

The president’s offered the assessment Monday after disputing recent news reports that claimed satellite imagery showed North Korea had continued — even during the weeks after the Singapore summit — to make improvements to one of its nuclear research facilities. Analysts have pounced on the images as evidence that Mr. Kim may be double-crossing Mr. Trump.

Paul Haenle, an analyst heading the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, a Beijing-based think tank, said the satellite imagery underscores the danger that Mr. Trump may have “declared victory in Singapore for domestic political purposes without securing significant concessions or verifiable commitments from the North.”

He added that Mr. Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang is “an inflection point” that will offer “the best indications yet of whether actual progress towards denuclearization is possible.”

Friday will mark Mr. Pompeo’s third trip to North Korea in three months. He last visited in May ahead of the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore. He also traveled there secretly in early April when he was CIA director.

Pyongyang will be the first stop on the secretary of state’s first around-the-world trip as America’s top diplomat. The trip includes stops in Japan, Vietnam, the United Arab Emirates and Belgium, where Mr. Pompeo will accompany Mr. Trump at a major NATO summit in Brussels.

S.A. Miller contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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