Mike Pom­peo loses tem­per when asked about North Korean dis­ar­ma­ment

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - Ju­lian Borger in Sin­ga­pore and Ben­jamin Haas in Seoul

Mike Pom­peo has said the US and North Korea are close to agree­ment on a broad range of is­sues, but has lashed out at re­porters when asked about how Py­ongyang’s dis­ar­ma­ment would be ver­i­fied.

The US sec­re­tary of state was talk­ing to jour­nal­ists the day af­ter a joint state­ment signed by Don­ald Trump and Kim Jong-un in Sin­ga­pore, on North Korean dis­ar­ma­ment and bi­lat­eral re­la­tions.

The state­ment has been crit­i­cised by arms con­trol ex­perts be­cause it used the vague lan­guage fa­vored by the regime rather than the more pre­cise def­i­ni­tion of dis­ar­ma­ment the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion had said it would in­sist on be­fore the sum­mit.

When pressed on whether Trump and Kim had dis­cussed ver­i­fi­ca­tion, which would in­volve the de­ploy­ment of weapons in­spec­tors to North Korea, the sec­re­tary of state lost his tem­per. “I find that ques­tion in­sult­ing and ridicu­lous and, frankly, lu­di­crous,” the for­mer Repub­li­can con­gress­man said. “I just have to be hon­est with you. It’s a game and one ought not play games with se­ri­ous mat­ters like this.”

Most ob­servers agree that the Sin­ga­pore meet­ing went some way to­wards de­fus­ing ten­sions on the Korean penin­sula, but had not made clear whether the Py­ongyang regime was se­ri­ous about giv­ing up its nu­clear weapons.

Pom­peo spoke af­ter ar­riv­ing in Seoul to brief the South Korean and Ja­panese govern­ments on the sum­mit’s out­come. He said the joint state­ment did not con­tain all that had been agreed in prin­ci­ple with Py­ongyang.

He added that there would be more bi­lat­eral talks soon, and ex­pressed hope that “ma­jor dis­ar­ma­ment” would be achieved in the next two-and-a-half years, be­fore the end of Trump’s first term.

At a later joint me­dia con­fer­ence with Ja­panese and South Korean coun­ter­parts, Pom­peo said: “Kim Jong-un un­der­stands the ur­gency of de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion and that we must do this quickly.”

“We’re go­ing to get com­plete de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion and only then are we go­ing to lift sanc­tions,” Pom­peo added. “The mis­takes of the past were they were pro­vid­ing eco­nomic re­lief be­fore com­plete de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion.”

Pom­peo also backed Trump’s claim on Twit­ter that “there is no longer a nu­clear threat from North Korea”, de­spite Kim main­tain­ing his nu­clear ar­se­nal and a range of bal­lis­tic mis­siles.

Pom­peo’s out­burst came when he high­lighted that US and North Korean of­fi­cials meet­ing in the de­mil­i­tarised zone (DMZ) had made a lot of progress in the run-up to the sum­mit that would soon be­come pub­lic.

“Not all of that work ap­peared in the fi­nal doc­u­ment, but [there were] lots of other places where there were un­der­stand­ings reached,” Pom­peo said. “We couldn’t re­duce them to writ­ing, so that means there’s still some work to do, but there was a great deal of work done that is be­yond what was seen in the fi­nal doc­u­ment.”

In the joint state­ment, Kim agreed his coun­try would work to­wards “com­plete de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion of the Korean penin­sula”.

It is a stock phrase the regime has used since 1992, but which it de­fines loosely as a dis­tant as­pi­ra­tional goal that would take place in the con­text of global dis­ar­ma­ment by nu­clear weapons pow­ers.

Be­fore the Sin­ga­pore sum­mit, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, and Pom­peo in par­tic­u­lar, in­sisted the US would de­mand more rig­or­ous terms, specif­i­cally “com­plete, ver­i­fi­able, ir­re­versible dis­ar­ma­ment” (CVID), which is favoured by arms con­trol ex­perts to re­duce wig­gle-room in ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Be­fore the Sin­ga­pore meet­ing, Pom­peo re­peated the phrase al­most daily in in­ter­views and speeches, and in a tweet on the eve of the sum­mit.

But when he was asked why the words “ver­i­fi­able” and “ir­re­versible” were not in the joint state­ment, he ar­gued the two terms were en­com­passed in the sin­gle word “com­plete”: “You could ar­gue se­man­tics, but let me as­sure you that it’s in the doc­u­ment,” Pom­peo said.

When asked again how dis­ar­ma­ment would be ver­i­fied, Pom­peo replied: “There’s a long way to go, there’s much to think about, but don’t say silly things.

“No, don’t, don’t,” he con­tin­ued in face of the ques­tion­ing. “It’s not pro­duc­tive. It’s not pro­duc­tive to do that, to say silly things. It’s just – it’s un­help­ful.

“It’s un­help­ful for your read­ers, your lis­ten­ers, for the world,” Pom­peo said. “It doesn’t re­motely re­flect the Amer­i­can po­si­tion or the un­der­stand­ings that the North Kore­ans have ei­ther.”

On re­turn­ing to the US from his his­toric meet­ing with Kim, the first ever be­tween US and North Korean lead­ers, Trump de­clared in a tweet: “There is no longer a nu­clear threat from North Korea.”

The pres­i­dent blamed the me­dia for scep­ti­cism over what had been achieved in Sin­ga­pore. “They are fight­ing hard to down­play the deal with North Korea. 500 days ago they would have “begged” for this deal – looked like war would break out,” Trump said. “Our coun­try’s big­gest en­emy is the fake news so eas­ily pro­mul­gated by fools!”

North Korean me­dia de­clared the sum­mit a vic­tory for Kim, and high­lighted Trump’s an­nounce­ment af­ter the meet­ing that the US would sus­pend joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with

South Korea, news which ap­peared to take Seoul by sur­prise.

Ac­cord­ing to Trump, Kim pledged to dis­man­tle a mis­sile en­gine test­ing site, but that has so far not been men­tioned by Py­ongyang.

Arms con­trol spe­cial­ists warned that the vague­ness in the lan­guage in Sin­ga­pore sug­gested that the sum­mit had done lit­tle to close the gap be­tween the two sides in their ap­proach to dis­ar­ma­ment.

“Headed into the sum­mit, the US and North Korea failed to rec­on­cile their def­i­ni­tions of de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion, and this fail­ure para­dox­i­cally al­lowed them to talk,” Mira Rapp-Hooper, a se­nior fel­low at Yale Law School’s China cen­tre, said. “By elid­ing these dis­tinct def­i­ni­tions in the joint state­ment in ‘com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean penin­sula’, they have once again failed to com­mit to the same ob­jec­tive.”

Kelsey Daven­port, the di­rec­tor for non-pro­lif­er­a­tion pol­icy at the Arms Con­trol As­so­ci­a­tion, said: “Pom­peo is as­sum­ing that North Korea shares his in­ter­pre­ta­tion that ‘com­plete de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion of the Korean penin­sula’ im­plies ‘ver­i­fi­able’.”

“That is a dan­ger­ous as­sump­tion be­cause North Korea has ex­ploited am­bi­gu­ity in the past to de­rail agree­ments,” Daven­port said.

Joseph Cir­in­cione, the head of ad­vo­cacy group the Ploughshares Fund, said that there had been plenty of arms con­trol agree­ments be­fore the Ge­orge W Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion coined CVID.

“Pom­peo is right that ‘com­plete de­nu­cle­ari­sa­tion’ im­plies and could in­clude those con­cepts. But Pom­peo per­son­ally and the ad­min­is­tra­tion over­all made such a big deal about it be­fore the sum­mit that its ab­sence is strik­ing,” Cir­in­cione said.

“The weak­ness in the com­mu­nique is not the ab­sence of this slo­gan but the ab­sence of any ref­er­ence at all to ver­i­fi­ca­tion or in­spec­tions,” he added. “Ev­ery other agree­ment since 1992 has in­cluded a com­mit­ment to ver­i­fi­ca­tion.”

Pho­to­graph: Jung Yeon-je/AP

Mike Pom­peo walks with Gen Vincent K Brooks, co­man­der of the US Forces Korea, upon his ar­rival in Pyeong­taek, South Korea on 13 June.

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