Mike Pompeo in North Korea: Stepping Forward to Another Trump-Kim Meeting

The visit of the US Secretary of State to the DPRK took place at the second attempt: Pompeo was going to Pyongyang last summer, but his August visit was cancelled. The US Secretary of State was expected to persuade Pyongyang to provide a specific denuclearization timetable, and in response Washington would announce the end of the Korean War. However, in July, in response to a timetable request, the North Korean side declared that it was necessary to formally end the state of war between the two countries, and only after that talk about denuclearization.

As a result (according to Reuters), North Koreans wrote to Pompeo that the United States did not fulfil promises, and the visit did not make sense if Washington had nothing to offer, after which Trump cancelled the trip almost a few hours before the Secretary of State was to leave for Pyongyang.

However, after the fifth inter-Korean summit, when Kim made it clear about his readiness to cooperate with Trump, the plans changed, and Pompeo’s visit to North Korea became part of an East Asia trip: Tokyo-Pyongyang-Seoul-Beijing. On September 25, the day after the South Korean-American summit in New York, Mike Pompeo met with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, after which the visit was finally announced.

September 2018 Inter-Korean Summit: Preliminary Results
Konstantin Asmolov
The results of the summit, presented in the so-called Pyongyang Declaration, leave a double impression. On the one hand, there are many declarative statements and unlikely promises like the joint holding of the Olympics-2032. Talks about possible launching of inter-Korean economic or infrastructure projects also remain "pointless conversations", as this requires a significant lifting of sanctions that is not in the competence of Moon Jae-in.
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Shortly after the visit, the North Korean KCNA agency published a very detailed report of the meeting, completely avoiding anti-American propaganda. “The distinguished leader Kim Jong-un expressed satisfaction about the productive and wonderful talks with Mike Pompeo.” “Together with Mike Pompeo, Kim Jong-un appreciated the positively developing situation on the Korean peninsula, explained in detail the proposals for solving the denuclearization issue and matters of concern to both sides, and had a constructive opinions exchange.”

During further conversation, Kim Jong-un noted the positive dynamics in the development of the situation on the peninsula and the implementation of the June 12 joint statement, expressed gratitude to President Trump, who is “making sincere efforts,” and asked Pompeo to convey greetings to him.

As for the essence of the talks, Kim and Pompeo “explained to each other plans for denuclearization and points of concern and exchanged constructive opinions,” they also “had a heartfelt discussion” regarding the second summit between the DPRK and US leaders. An ad hoc group will soon begin to work over the procedural issues.

After the talks, Kim Jong-un expressed satisfaction that the parties “came to mutual understanding about the position of the other side,” he gave a dinner where the leader of the DPRK and the US Secretary of State “exchanged very interesting opinions on further enhancing mutual understanding, contacts, movement between the two parties to confirm the success of the summit of the heads of North Korea and the United States and the development of the Korean-American relations.” Saying goodbye to Pompeo, Kim expressed confidence that “the dialogue and the meeting between the DPRK and the United States, based on reliable trust of both countries’ leaders, will remarkably continue.”

Pompeo himself also wrote on Twitter that the parties were making progress in the framework of the Singapore summit arrangements. He estimated his visit to Pyongyang as fruitful, and the conversation with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as “good and productive”. A little later, the US State Department reported that the conversation lasted three hours, including lunch (1 hour and a half), and Kim Jong-un invited inspectors to visit the Punggye-ri nuclear test site (it will be recalled that it was closed on May 24 on the eve of the first US-North Korean summit in Singapore) to make sure that it is completely dismantled. After all, when it was blown up in the presence of journalists, but without experts-observers, anti-Pyongyang propaganda immediately circulated rumors that North Koreans had only blew up the exits, and the entire infrastructure remained intact, and it would take several months to dig exits out.

Trump tweeted, that “@SecPompeo had a good meeting with Chairman Kim today in Pyongyang. Progress made on Singapore Summit Agreements! I look forward to seeing Chairman Kim again, in the near future”.

DPRK Nuclear Missile Potential
According to various sources, the DPRK has from 15 to 60 nuclear bombs. In July 2017, two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of carrying a large nuclear warhead were test-launched. The US Department of Defense believes that the potential range of the Hwasong-14 missile is 10,400 kilometers, making it capable of reaching the continental United States.

Summing up, we can say the following:

• Although the details of the meeting were not disclosed, it clearly took place in a warm atmosphere and brought the date of the second US-North Korean summit closer. In comparison, the Chinese part of Pompeo’s visit was much more tense – Beijing demanded that “the American side immediately cease erroneous statements and actions.”

• Tête-à-tête talks spawned a series of curious, but unverifiable conspiracy statements. For some observers, Kim guaranteed that if the confrontation between the United States and China was intensified, the North would maintain neutrality (that seemed to be the main purpose of the visit). According to other opinions, the two pragmatists discussed how to imitate the process of detente before the end of Trump’s rule: war is unacceptable, negotiations with real concessions also, but why not continue their competent imitation, which pauses tensions?

• The mention of the “US response” presumes that the parties touched upon the fulfilment of the North Korean condition – the announcement of the end of the Korean War, and at the next summit Kim and Trump can at least declare signing the treaty a further line to confidence building. Finally, at the UN General Assembly, the head of the DPRK Foreign Ministry clearly said that the DPRK would not disarm unilaterally, and according to the Pyongyang Declaration the Yongbyon reactor should be dismantled only in case of reciprocal steps by the United States.

• However, Kim constantly emphasizes trust toward Trump personally, and not the American system as a whole. The DPRK media have recently separated the president and the state secretary from the hawks Pence and Bolton.

• In turn, supporters of intransigence against Pyongyang received their bone – Kim invited the American inspectors to dispel suspicions and personally verify that the Punggye-ri nuclear test site was dismantled. This can be presented as a diplomatic victory and the next “downwarding” of North Korea, because the United States did not declare any reciprocal actions at this meeting.

• At the same time, no progress was possible on the issue of softening or lifting sanctions, since the United States repeatedly declared its commitment to maintain sanctions until the end of denuclearization.

Thus, the visit was a step forward, because the state of “de facto double freezing” continues, and tensions on the peninsula did not increase. The possible format of the declaration on the end of the Korean War remains unclear: will this be a treaty, an agreement or a declaration? Will the agreement be identical to a peace treaty between the countries and/or will there be not only words about the formal end of the war but also about renouncing hostile intentions (repeating the agreement between the military of the North and the South)? Will there be guarantees that Trump’s successor will not cancel it on the very first day? We will learn about all of this on the eve of the second summit or soon after it.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.