N. Korea di­verges from U.S. on ac­cord

Trump team ex­pects big steps to dis­arm within 2½ years

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Peter Baker and Choe Sang-hun

WASH­ING­TON — Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said Wed­nes­day that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion hopes to com­plete “ma­jor dis­ar­ma­ment” of North Korea within the next 2½ years, even as con­flict­ing ac­counts of dis­cus­sions be­tween the two sides left un­clear what had ac­tu­ally been agreed to.

A day after Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s land­mark meet­ing with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, in Sin­ga­pore, the two lead­ers and their gov­ern­ments sought to shape the un­der­stand­ing of their talks to their ad­van­tage. But the con­tours of the vague agree­ment re­mained un­clear and open to di­ver­gent

in­ter­pre­ta­tions.

North Korea’s state-con­trolled news me­dia said Trump had agreed to a phased, “step by step” de­nu­cle­ariza­tion process rather than the im­me­di­ate dis­man­tling of its nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity, with the United States pro­vid­ing re­cip­ro­cal ben­e­fits at each stage along the way. Trump has pre­vi­ously in­sisted he will not lift sanc­tions un­til North Korea has rid it­self of its nu­clear weapons.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, for its part, in­sisted the gen­eral word­ing of the joint state­ment signed by Trump and Kim com­mit­ted North Korea to an in­tru­sive in­spec­tion regime to con­firm its “com­plete de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.” The state­ment it­self, how­ever, did not ex­plic­itly use the words “ver­i­fi­able” or “ir­re­versible” that had been part of the mantra of U.S. of­fi­cials lead­ing up to the Sin­ga­pore sum­mit.

“Let me as­sure you that the ‘com­plete’ en­com­passes ‘ver­i­fi­able’ in the minds of every­one con­cerned,” Pom­peo told re­porters in Seoul, where he flew to con­sult with South Korean of­fi­cials. “One can’t com­pletely de­nu­cle­arize with­out val­i­dat­ing, au­then­ti­cat­ing — you pick the word.”

The pres­i­dent him­self did not dwell on the de­tails as he landed back in Wash­ing­ton early Wed­nes­day morn­ing. In­stead, he claimed a sweep­ing achieve­ment even be­fore any of the de­tails have been worked out.

“Just landed — a long trip, but ev­ery­body can now feel much safer than the day I took office,” he wrote on Twit­ter. “There is no longer a Nu­clear Threat from North Korea.”

“Be­fore tak­ing office peo­ple were as­sum­ing that we were go­ing to War with North Korea,” he added. “Pres­i­dent Obama said that North Korea was our big­gest and most dan­ger­ous prob­lem. No longer — sleep well tonight!”

His claim that there was no longer a nu­clear threat even though North Korea has not given up any of its weapons or dis­man­tled any of its 141 known nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties other than blow­ing up a test site. Trump’s as­ser­tion drew de­ri­sion from crit­ics who ac­cused him of get­ting way ahead of what could be a long, dif­fi­cult ne­go­ti­a­tion to trans­late the gauzy as­pi­ra­tion of Sin­ga­pore into a work­able plan.

“What planet is the pres­i­dent on?” asked Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the mi­nor­ity leader. “Say­ing it doesn’t make it so. North Korea still has nu­clear weapons. It still has ICBMs. It still has the United States in dan­ger. Some­how Pres­i­dent Trump thinks when he says some­thing it be­comes re­al­ity. If it were only that easy, only that sim­ple.”

Law­mak­ers and al­lies alike were left try­ing to dis­cern what ex­actly Trump agreed to and how the fol­lowup ne­go­ti­a­tions would pro­ceed. Pom­peo planned to brief South Korean of­fi­cials who were caught off guard to learn the pres­i­dent had agreed to sus­pend joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises in a sig­nif­i­cant con­ces­sion to North Korea.

“The crit­i­cal ques­tion is what comes next?” said Kelsey Daven­port, non­pro­lif­er­a­tion pol­icy direc­tor at the Wash­ing­ton-based Arms Con­trol As­so­ci­a­tion. “The true test of suc­cess is whether the fol­low-on ne­go­ti­a­tions can close the gap be­tween the United States and North Korea on the def­i­ni­tion of de­nu­cle­ariza­tion and lay out spe­cific, ver­i­fi­able steps that Py­ongyang will take to re­duce the threat posed by its nu­clear weapons.”

Only after the sign­ing cer­e­mony did it emerge that more com­mit­ments had ap­par­ently been made than were listed in the joint state­ment. In a post-sum­mit news con­fer­ence Tues­day, Trump an­nounced that the United States would end joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises with its South Korean al­lies, which Py­ongyang has long de­nounced as re­hearsals for an in­va­sion of the North. The news ap­peared to catch both the South Korean govern­ment and the United States mil­i­tary off guard.

On Wed­nes­day, Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in in Seoul ap­peared to en­dorse Trump’s de­ci­sion.

“While North Korea and the United States are en­gaged in sin­cere talks on de­nu­cle­ariza­tion and re­la­tions-build­ing, we rec­og­nize the need to find var­i­ous op­tions to smooth such di­a­logue,” said a spokesman, Kim Eui-kyeom.

The North’s of­fi­cial Korean Cen­tral News Agency re­ported that Trump had agreed to “lift sanc­tions” once bi­lat­eral re­la­tions im­prove. Trump had said Tues­day that the sanc­tions would stay in place un­til North Korea dis­man­tled enough of its nu­clear pro­gram to make it dif­fi­cult to re­verse course. Trump said the de­nu­cle­ariza­tion process would be­gin “very soon” and hap­pen “very quickly.”

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