For top diplo­mat, from sum­mit to Seoul

Sec­re­tary of state be­gins talks to end North Korea threat

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Tracy Wilkin­son and Eli Stokols

WASH­ING­TON — As Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­clared his sum­mit with Kim Jong Un a smash­ing suc­cess, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo quickly be­gan the hard part: ne­go­ti­at­ing the com­plex de­tails for a deal to elim­i­nate North Korea's nu­clear threat.

Pom­peo went straight to Seoul af­ter the sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore to con­fer on Wed­nes­day with South Korean al­lies and top U.S. mil­i­tary com­man­ders in the re­gion. He said that dis­man­tling Py­ongyang’s nu­clear ar­se­nal could take 2½ years.

Pom­peo also had to ex­plain to both the al­lies and Amer­i­can com­man­ders the un­ex­pected an­nounce­ment from Trump in Sin­ga­pore that he is halt­ing an­nual joint U.S.-South Korea mil­i­tary ex­er­cises, which the pres­i­dent de­scribed as provoca­tive war games, us­ing the lex­i­con of North Korea and China.

Al­lies, in­clud­ing in Japan, were blind­sided by the de­ci­sion, which trig­gered sharp crit­i­cism from Congress, in­clud­ing Repub­li­cans, and from for­mer and cur­rent U.S. of­fi­cials.

Pom­peo met with Gen. Vin­cent Brooks, the top U.S. com­man­der in South Korea. On Thurs­day, he is to meet with South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in, a prin­ci­pal force be­hind ar­rang­ing the Sin­ga­pore sum­mit, and with the for­eign min­is­ters of South Korea and Japan. Later he con­tin­ues to Bei­jing, where Chi­nese of­fi­cials are thought to be ex­tremely pleased with the sum­mit re­sults, but vexed by on­go­ing trade dis­putes with Wash­ing­ton.

Com­pli­cat­ing Pom­peo’s Mike Pom­peo, right, gets a greet­ing Wed­nes­day from Gen. Vin­cent K. Brooks, com­man­der of U.S. forces in South Korea. diplo­matic work, Trump, upon his predawn ar­rival in Wash­ing­ton from Sin­ga­pore, made the kind of “mis­sion ac­com­plished” procla­ma­tion that of­ten comes back to haunt lead­ers. He de­clared on Twit­ter that “there is no longer a Nu­clear Threat from North Korea.”

“A long trip, but ev­ery­body can now feel much safer than the day I took of­fice,” he added.

“This is ab­so­lutely un­true,” said Ni­cholas Burns, a career diplo­mat and se­nior of­fi­cial in the Clin­ton and Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tions. “North Korea is still a nu­clear threat to the U.S., South Korea and Japan. Kim has not dis­man­tled any part of his nu­clear ap­pa­ra­tus.”

De­spite Trump and Kim’s step away from what seemed last year to be the brink of war — ten­sions in­flamed in part by Trump’s tweets and name-call­ing — Kim has as many nu­clear war­heads now as he had last week, and more than he had when Trump took of­fice.

An­other wrin­kle: Of­fi­cial North Korean me­dia are pro­vid­ing a dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tion of what hap­pened in Sin­ga­pore.

The tightly con­trolled press ac­counts in Py­ongyang said Trump and Kim agreed that work “to­ward” de­nu­cle­ariza­tion would in­volve “step-by-step and si- mul­ta­ne­ous ac­tion.” The re­ports sug­gested the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion would lift key eco­nomic sanc­tions in the process, which was not men­tioned in the lead­ers’ con­clud­ing joint state­ment.

They also said that de­nu­cle­ariza­tion would oc­cur in the south­ern half of the Korean penin­sula as well as the north — in other words, it would en­tail end­ing the United States’ long­time nu­clear pres­ence, some­thing Amer­i­can of­fi­cials have said was off the ta­ble.

Trump and Kim held part of their meet­ings with­out aides or note-tak­ers, only trans­la­tors, so there is no record or con­fir­ma­tion of what was said be­tween them.

Fur­ther, the vaguely worded fi­nal state­ment con­tained no de­tailed plan or time­line for nu­clear dis­ar­ma­ment, or even a def­i­ni­tion of the process. Miss­ing were the words that had be­come the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s mantra to de­scribe its goal: “com­plete, ver­i­fi­able and ir­re­versible de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.”

Pom­peo, speak­ing to jour­nal­ists trav­el­ing with him in Seoul, de­fended the lack of de­tails and vague­ness of the doc­u­ment.

When a reporter asked why noth­ing was in­cluded on the cru­cial el­e­ment of ver­i­fi­ca­tion, Pom­peo bris­tled and said the ques­tion was “in­sult­ing and ridicu­lous and, frankly, lu­di­crous.”

“Let me as­sure you that the ‘ com­plete’ (de­nu­cle­ariza­tion) en­com­passes ‘ver­i­fi­able’ in the minds of every­one con­cerned,” Pom­peo said.

“I am con­fi­dent that they un­der­stand what we’re pre­pared to do, a hand­ful of things we’re likely not pre­pared to do,” he added. “I am equally con­fi­dent they un­der­stand that there will be in-depth ver­i­fi­ca­tion.”

Pom­peo said prepa­ra­tions ahead of Tues­day’s sum­mit pro­duced nu­mer­ous “un­der­stand­ings” that ne­go­ti­at­ing teams “couldn’t re­duce to writing” in the fi­nal state­ment.

Just a day be­fore the sum­mit, Pom­peo had said that “com­plete, ver­i­fi­able and ir­re­versible de­nu­cle­ariza­tion” was the United States’ ob­jec­tive, as it has been for decades. “Ver­i­fi­able” and “ir­re­versible” do not ap­pear in the doc­u­ment signed by Trump and Kim.

Asked if “ma­jor dis­ar­ma­ment” could be ac­com­plished by the end of Trump’s term, Pom­peo said, “Ab­so­lutely.”

“We’re hope­ful that we can achieve that in the next — what is it? — 2½ years, some­thing like that,” he said. “We’re hope­ful we get it done. There’s a lot of work left to do.”

In the lead­ers’ tri­umphant re­marks, both Kim, through state me­dia, and Trump, through Twit­ter, sought to put the best spin on a high-stakes sum­mit that each leader is try­ing to sell to his pub­lic as not only a his­toric re­sult but also a per­sonal vic­tory.

For Trump, one aim is to cast the Sin­ga­pore sum­mit as a ma­jor break­through to ben­e­fit Repub­li­can can­di­dates i n Novem­ber's midterm elec­tion — a goal al­ready un­der dis­cus­sion among po­lit­i­cal ad­vis­ers.

JEON HEON-KYUN/EPA

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