US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was to travel to North Korea via Japan yesterday as the contours of a potentially historic deal begin to take shape.
The top US diplomat is to pay his fourth visit this year to North Korea as he looks to arrange another summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Pompeo was to arrive in Japan today before he travels to Pyongyang to meet with Kim tomorrow. He is to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul after that.
Pompeo said he was hopeful that diplomacy would coax Kim to give up the regime’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
“This is a long-term problem. This has been outstanding for decades. We’ve made more progress than has been made in an awfully long time,” Pompeo told reporters on Wednesday.
Pompeo has repeatedly declined to be drawn out publicly on the shape of an eventual agreement. The US has called for a comprehensive accord and rigorous enforcement of sanctions on North Korea in the meantime.
South Korea gave a preview of what a deal might look like.
South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha, in an interview with the Washington Post, said that the North could agree to dismantle Yongbyon, its signature nuclear site.
In exchange, the US would declare a formal end to the 1950-1953 Korean War — which closed with an armistice rather than a full-blown peace treaty — but North Korea would stop short of delivering an exhaustive list of its nuclear facilities, Kang said.
Kang told the newspaper that the tradeoff would mark “a huge step forward in denuclearization.”
North Korea has not budged on its positions.
State media ahead of Pompeo’s visit said a peace treaty “can never be a bargaining chip,” saying an end to war “is not just a gift from one man to another.”
Douglas Paal, a former senior US official on Asia policy, who served as director of the American Institute in Taiwan from 2002 to 2008, said the South Korean proposal could appeal to Trump, who has made clear his eagerness for a second summit soon with Kim.
“The package is something that Trump can announce after he lands in Pyongyang. That’s my projected outcome at this point, although it has not been confirmed,” said Paal, the vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Trump in June met Kim in Singapore in the first-ever summit between the countries. No sitting US president has visited North Korea, which according to human rights groups remains one of the most repressive countries on Earth.
Paal said Trump likely sensed political opportunity in a breakthrough with North Korea, with US congressional elections on Nov. 6.
When the average US voter “no longer hears the president saying ‘fire and fury,’ but hears him saying peace, they believe he has actually made progress towards it, even if arms control people say we’ve made no progress of a material nature at all,” Paal said.
North Korea, ruled by three generations of Kims, has pursued both nuclear weapons and diplomacy with the US for decades.
It reached an agreement in 1994 to freeze nuclear work in exchange for normalization with the administration of then-US president Bill Clinton.
The deal broke down, although former US president George W. Bush also pursued talks.
Pompeo is to conclude his trip on Monday in China.
The Beijing stop could be tense, as it comes days after US Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech accusing China of military aggression, commercial theft and human rights violations.
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