Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has reaffirmed plans for a second U.S.-North Korean summit to be held next month “somewhere in Asia,” despite intelligence assessments that the communist state is unlikely to give up its nuclear arsenal.
President Donald Trump announced earlier this month that he planned to meet again with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in late February. No date or location has been announced, although it’s widely expected to be in Vietnam.
Pompeo said he has dispatched a State Department team to prepare for the summit.
“We’ll do it someplace in Asia, so I think that looks good,” he said Wednesday in an interview with Fox News.
It was the first official acknowledgement that the meeting will be held in the region.
The team is “headed that way now to lay the foundations for what I hope will be a substantial, additional step towards the path for not only denuclearization on the peninsula but a brighter future for the North Korean people,” Pompeo said, without elaborating.
South Korean media have reported that U.S. and South Korean officials would hold talks in coming days in the truce village of Panmunjom on the border that divides the peninsula.
Trump and Kim made a vague promise to work toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” in exchange for security guarantees for the North during their first summit on June 12 in Singapore.
Since then, the two sides have been unable to agree on details about how to carry that out. The United States has insisted it will maintain punishing economic sanctions until “fully, verified denuclearization” has been achieved, while Pyongyang wants a reciprocal approach in which it’s rewarded for steps already taken.
Discussions with North Korea’s top negotiator Kim Yong Chol aimed at narrowing the gap during his visit to Washington “got nowhere” on denuclearization, CNN reported Wednesday, citing two unidentified sources familiar with the talks.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told a Senate committee that North Korea remains a threat.
“We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its [weapons of mass destruction] capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capability because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival,” he said Tuesday.
Trump fired back that progress has been made, pointing to the fact that the North has ceased nuclear and missile tests that had prompted fiery rhetoric from both sides and raised fears of a nuclear war.
He ticked off the gains that had been achieved since the diplomatic process began in force last year, including the testing moratorium, the return of U.S. remains from the 1950-53 Korean War and the release of three Americans who had been detained.
But the president appeared to lower his expectations about nuclear talks, tweeting that there was a “decent chance of Denuclearization,” as opposed to previous demands for the complete dismantlement of the program.
“Time will tell what will happen with North Korea, but at the end of the previous administration, relationship was horrendous and very bad things were about to happen,” he wrote. “I look forward to seeing Kim Jong Un shortly. Progress being made — big difference!”
Barack Obama and other former U.S. presidents had refused to talk to the North until it abandoned its nuclear ambitions. Past agreements collapsed due to mistrust and failure to comply with commitments.
Commercial satellite images in recent months have shown that North Korea maintains its weapons programs despite U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban such activity.
That reportedly includes its main missile-testing facility, which Kim had promised to remove.
Earlier imagery showed the North had taken steps to dismantle the vertical engine test stand and a rail-mounted processing building over the summer.
However, no new dismantling activity has occurred since August, according to images taken on Sunday, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“The absence of activity, when combined with only minor routine activity observed throughout the facility, suggests that the facility has been in caretaker status for the previous five months,” the think tank said.
“All of the dismantling actions taken during 2018 only require minimal effort to reverse,” it added, alluding as well to the North’s purported destruction of its main nuclear testing site.
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