July 9, 2018 | Policy Brief

Pompeo Visit Shows Breadth of U.S.-North Korea Divide

At the conclusion of his third trip to Pyongyang, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters, “we made progress on almost all of the central issues” in U.S.-North Korea relations. Yet only hours after Pompeo’s departure, the North Korean Foreign Ministry harshly criticized the secretary of state’s “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization.” The ministry’s statement underscores the breadth of the divide between Washington and Pyongyang on the pivotal issue of nuclear disarmament.

The Foreign Ministry specifically condemned the American insistence on “CVID,” Washington’s shorthand for comprehensive, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization, which Pompeo himself considers essential. Pyongyang also attacked Pompeo for his alleged failure to mention “the issue of establishing a peace regime on the Korean peninsula” by bringing a formal end to the Korean war.

North Korea’s rejection of CVID is consistent with its position prior to the June 12 summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un. In May, Kim Kye-gwan, North Korea’s first vice minister of foreign affairs and a veteran negotiator with the U.S., denounced CVID and called for an “end to [America’s] anti-DPRK hostile policy and nuclear threats and blackmail” – in effect, a demand that the U.S. remove its troops from South Korea before the North disarms. In their joint statement in Singapore, Trump and Kim avoided disagreement by omitting any specifics regarding the timeline or standards for the dismantling of Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal.

In its criticism of Pompeo, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry also lambasted his demands, which run “counter to the spirit of the Singapore summit.” Yet North Korea continues to expand its ballistic missile-manufacturing capability as well as its production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, despite committing to “complete denuclearization” in Singapore.

While attacking the secretary of state, Pyongyang’s statement took great care not to offend the president, noting, “We still cherish our good faith in President Trump.” The statement sought to sow division between the president and the secretary of state by suggesting that Pompeo was pursuing his own hawkish agenda instead of the following the president’s guidance.

After his departure from Pyongyang and arrival in Tokyo, Pompeo reasserted the U.S. commitment to North Korea’s “fully verified, final denuclearization,” with all sanctions remaining in place and vigorously enforced until that goal is achieved. Those are the correct policies to pursue, yet Kim Jong Un does not seem convinced that Pompeo speaks for the White House. To clarify the situation, the president should personally communicate to Kim the importance of CVID. Trump should also ask North Korea to provide in short order a full declaration of its nuclear program and capabilities. If Kim does not comply, then he has not made a strategic decision denuclearize and the Trump administration should return to its policy of maximum pressure.

Mathew Ha is a research associate at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies focused on North Korea. Follow him on Twitter @MatJunsuk.

Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.