- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2019

LONDON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday brushed aside North Korean demands that the Trump administration soften its nuclear negotiating posture, saying the Trump administration remains open to talks with Pyongyang, despite provocative rhetoric recently issued by the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime.

“I hope we get another opportunity to sit down with them and have a serious conversation,” Mr. Pompeo told The Washington Times in an exclusive interview. The U.S. stance that North Korea must abandon its nuclear weapons if it wants sanctions relief has remained “unambiguous” since President Trump’s personal diplomacy with Pyongyang first gained momentum, Mr. Pompeo added.

Speaking at the end of a week-long visit to Europe, Mr. Pompeo stressed that Mr. Kim agreed to give up his nuclear arsenal nearly a year ago at the June 12 Singapore summit with Mr. Trump. “They need to do what Chairman Kim said that they would do,” the secretary of state said. “That’s been our posture since the beginning. We’re happy to talk about the best way to achieve that. We’re happy to talk about what the right tools and mechanisms are so we can facilitate that.”

But his comments come against a backdrop of unease that the nuclear talks have stalled — if not completely broken down — since a second Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi was abruptly cut short in February when the two sides failed to strike a far-reaching deal to end the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

Mr. Trump said at the time that he had to walk away because the North Koreans demanded sweeping sanctions relief in exchange for only a limited commitment to destroy part of their nuclear arsenal, a characterization Pyongyang later challenged.

Since Hanoi, Mr. Kim has cast cast a negative shadow on future talks with heated rhetoric, and by carrying out missile tests — tests he had previously suspended while nuclear talks were gaining steam.

In a mid-April speech, the North Korean leader set a Dec. 31 deadline for the Trump administration to make a “bold decision” to change its negotiating stance if it wants a deal.

“We don’t like — and we are not interested in — the United States’ way of dialogue…in which it tries to unilaterally push through its demands,” Mr. Kim said in the speech. “We don’t welcome — and we have no intention of repeating — the kind of summit meeting like the one held in Hanoi.”

While Pyongyang has refrained from attacking Mr. Trump personally, North Korean officials have shown no restraint in attacking his advisers. The North Korean Foreign Ministry has, for instance, accused Mr. Pompeo of “talking nonsense” and demanded he be removed from the U.S. negotiating team. Newly appointed North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui has said the U.S. will face “undesired consequences” if it does not change its stance, according to North Korea’s state media.

Mr. Pompeo on Tuesday said only that Trump administration officials are determined “to work our tail off every day to find a resolution, a peaceful resolution to the nuclear crisis.”

The secretary of state separately said that he “never talk[s] about negotiations and the details of them” in public, but that U.S. officials have had “lots” of conversations with North Korean officials about the commitments Mr. Kim made at the Singapore summit.

A joint declaration the North Korean leader and Mr. Trump signed at the summit said: “President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to [North Korea] and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

National security analysts question whether the two sides see eye-to-eye on what “complete denuclearization” would entail. Some argue the North Koreans are demanding the removal of the U.S. defensive nuclear umbrella from all of East Asia.

The Trump administration has declined to comment on when the last direct contact occurred between U.S. and North Korean officials, although U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun said at the Shangri-La Dialogue security conference over the weekend that he remains confident progress can still be made.

Mr. Pompeo, meanwhile, stressed in his interview with The Times that Mr. Trump “has has had a singular focus on proliferation issues since I’ve known him — frankly since the first time I met him when I interviewed for the job of CIA director, at Trump Tower.”

“Certainly I saw that during my time as CIA director, when I briefed him with great frequency on intelligence issues,” said Mr. Pompeo, who shifted from the CIA director role to secretary of state in April of last year. “So this is a high priority for the president to denuclearize North Korea.”

On the question of timing, Mr. Pompeo also noted that the president “has said all along, ‘Look, we know this will take time.’”

The president “is not given sufficient credit” for rallying world powers through the U.N. Security Council behind ramped-up sanctions against that “put enormous pressure on North Korea,” Mr. Pompeo said.

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