- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 4, 2018

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet with North Korea’s No. 2 official in New York next week, as part of the Trump administration’s ongoing diplomatic effort to persuade Pyongyang to embrace complete denuclearization on the peninsula.

The meeting with Mr. Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol, vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, will be a “good opportunity to follow through” on U.S.-led efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons development program, the top U.S. diplomat said Sunday.

“We continue to make good progress … [and] I’m confident that we will advance the ball again this week” toward complete verifiable denuclearization on the Korean peninsula, Mr. Pompeo said during an interview on CBS’s Face The Nation. This week’s meeting will be one of several conducted by the Secretary of State in the weeks and months since Mr. Trump’s landmark summit in June with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore.

However, administration critics have been quick to point out that Mr. Kim and the regime in the North have leveraged Mr. Trump’s efforts to engage with Pyongyang to earn legitimacy in the international community, while harboring no real intention to follow through on major U.S. initiatives, such as denuclearization on the Korean peninsula.

Further, the suspension of key, large-scale military drills between U.S. and South Korean forces by the Trump White House — ostensibly as a goodwill gesture toward North Korea who view the drills as a direct challenge to Pyongyang’s sovereignty — have sent a chilling message to Seoul and other U.S. allies in the Pacific over Washington’s resolve to confront national security challenges in the region.

Mr. Pompeo declined to comment on whether the issue of U.S-South Korea military drills would be a topic of discussion during talks in New York. That said, the U.S. is “very focused” on the goal of eliminating the nuclear threat posed by Pyongyang, Mr. Pompeo said.

“We know with whom we are negotiating, we know what their positions [are] and President Trump has made his position very clear,” he said during a separate interview on Fox News Sunday.

Military officials in Washington and Seoul are launching a wide-scale review of all future large-scale military drills between the two allies, with plans to lock in a finalized exercise schedule for the coming year, South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told reporters at the Pentagon last Wednesday.

That said, Mr. Pompeo on Sunday provided a laundry list of U.S. achievements in relations with North Korea since the Singapore summit, saying such achievements were part of Washington’s inevitable march toward denuclearization.

“We haven’t had any missile tests. There have been no nuclear test. We’ve had the returns of American remains [from the Korean War]. These are all good steps,” Mr. Pompeo told CBS. “We’re continuing to negotiate with the North Koreans to achieve … the full denuclearization verified by the United States of the Korean peninsula,” he added.

While the Trump administration’s hopes are high for rapprochement with Pyongyang, White House officials are putting Russia, China and the rest of the international community on notice over harsh U.S. sanctions against Iran, scheduled to go back in place Monday.

Mr. Pompeo on Sunday issued a thinly veiled warning to Russia and China that they will suffer the consequences if they continue to purchase Iranian oil after U.S. economic sanctions on such exports snapback this week.

“Watch what we do. Watch as we’ve already taken more crude oil off the market than any time in previous history,” Mr. Pompeo told Fox News.

“The president’s policy of maximum pressure [on Iran] will be fully in place come tomorrow. Watch the Iranians. That’s who really understands the importance and the impact of the effort that we’re undertaking,” he added Sunday. His comments come a day after Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Moscow would continue to buy Iranian oil, even after U.S. sanctions go back into place on Monday.

“We believe we should look for mechanisms that would allow us to continue developing cooperation with our partners, with Iran,” Mr. Novak said in an interview with the Financial Times.

“We already live in the condition of sanctions. We do not recognize the sanctions introduced unilaterally without the United Nations, we consider those methods illegal per se,” he said.

The Trump administration has worked to crush Tehran’s oil exports to zero since May when Mr. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the multilateral deal endorsed by the Obama administration that eased global sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s suspect nuclear programs.

“I could totally shut them off. They’re down in half already. I don’t want to totally destroy their country. I don’t want to do that,” Mr. Trump told The Washington Times, regarding the administration’s plans to reinstate sanctions on the Iranian regime. “I’m not looking to double the price of oil. There’s a fine line [but] I could get them down to zero if I wanted to,” Mr. Trump said.

The move incensed U.S. allies in western Europe, who had begun to make significant investments in Iran, as a result of the Obama-era nuclear pact, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPoA.

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, along with German Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas, Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström and Danish Foreign Affairs Minister Anders Samuelsen held a conference call with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Saturday, to discuss the blowback to the European Union as a result of the reimposition of U.S. sanctions.

“[Ms]. Mogherini and the European ministers once again reiterated their commitment to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and emphasized the efforts to maintain financial channels with Tehran and the continuation of Iran’s oil and gas exports,” according to reports by Iranian state-run news outlet IRNA.

But Mr. Pompeo affirmed the international community’s backing of Mr. Trump’s efforts against Iran, telling CBS on Sunday that “the whole world understands these sanctions are real.” When asked whether the administration’s efforts would push Iran closer to a nuclear bomb, he replied: “We are confident that will not happen.”

• Carlo Muñoz can be reached at cmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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