North Korea threat at end, Trump tweets

Pompeo visits South, says Kim must take major steps

Posted: June 14, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.
Updated: June 14, 2018 at 11:04 a.m.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets today in Seoul with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (second from right) and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono (second from left).

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. and the world can "sleep well tonight," President Donald Trump declared Wednesday, boasting that his summit with Kim Jong Un had ended any nuclear threat from North Korea.

"Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea," Trump tweeted. "President [Barack] Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer - sleep well tonight!"

While Trump claimed a historic breakthrough at the summit, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was more measured. He said the U.S. wants North Korea to take "major" nuclear disarmament steps before the end of Trump's first term in early 2021.

"We're hopeful we can get it done," he said Wednesday while speaking to reporters in Seoul. "There's a lot of work left to do."

Speaking today alongside the Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers in Seoul, Pompeo said that Trump's tweets were made "with eyes wide open" to the possibility that diplomacy could falter.

Pompeo said Trump was referring to the fact that for the first time in history, a U.S. president sat down with a North Korean leader. He said Trump and Kim had a "blunt conversation" about changes needed for North Korea to rejoin the world community.

The summit in Singapore did mark a reduction in tensions -- a change from last fall, when North Korea was conducting nuclear and missile tests and Trump and Kim were trading threats and insults that stoked fears of war. Kim is now promising to work toward a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

But the details of what is sure to be a complex and contentious process have yet to be settled.

Despite the uncertainties, Trump talked up the outcome of what was the first meeting between leaders of the U.S. and North Korea in six decades of hostility. The Korean War ended in 1953 without a peace treaty, leaving the two sides in a technical state of war.

"Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office," Trump tweeted early Wednesday. "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!"

Trump's claim that North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat raised questions considering Pyongyang's significant weapons arsenal.

Independent experts say the North could have enough fissile material for between a dozen and 60 nuclear bombs. Last year, it tested long-range missiles that could reach the U.S. mainland, although it remains unclear whether it has mastered the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead that could re-enter the atmosphere and hit its target.

Pompeo, who met Wednesday with South Korean leaders in Seoul, said the brief, four-point joint statement that emerged from the summit did not encapsulate all the progress the U.S. and North Korea had made.

He bristled at questions from reporters about the vague wording of the statement, which says North Korea "commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" -- a promise it has made several times before in the past 25 years and reneged on. Pompeo said Kim understands that "there will be in-depth verification" in any deal with the U.S.

"We have big teams ready to go," including experts from the U.S. and other partners around the world, Pompeo said Wednesday. "We're prepared to execute this once we're in a position that we can actually get to a place where we can do it."

For weeks, Pompeo and other officials have insisted North Korea must agree to "complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization" before economic sanctions can be lifted. Pompeo told reporters that the language used in the document encompassed those demands, even though they weren't spelled out.

"I suppose we could argue semantics, but let me assure you it's in the document," Pompeo said. "I am confident that they understand what we're prepared to do, the handful of things that we're likely not prepared to do." He added, "I am equally confident that they understand there will be in-depth verification."

After a question from a reporter who asked why the summit document didn't mention complete and verifiable denuclearization, Pompeo said: "I find that question insulting and ridiculous and frankly ludicrous. I just have to be honest with you, it's a game, it's a game, and one ought not play games with serious matters like this."

[NUCLEAR NORTH KOREA: Maps, data on country’s nuclear program]

DRILLS FROZEN

Trump also has drawn criticism for announcing he was ending joint "war games" with South Korea, embracing the frequent North Korean criticism that the exercises are provocative.

Freezing the regular military exercises with South Korea is a major concession to North Korea, which has long claimed the drills were invasion preparations. Trump's announcement appeared to catch the Pentagon and officials in Seoul off guard, and some South Koreans were alarmed. Trump cast the decision as a cost-saving measure but also called the exercises "inappropriate" while talks continue.

Pompeo cautioned Wednesday that the U.S. will resume "war games" with close ally South Korea if the North stops negotiating in good faith.

Pompeo said he was there when Trump talked about it with Kim, adding the president "made very clear" that the condition for the freeze was that good-faith talks be ongoing. He told reporters that if the U.S. concludes they no longer are, the freeze "will no longer be in effect."

"He was unambiguous about that," Pompeo said.

In Japan, the prospect of canceled U.S.-South Korean drills was met with concern.

"The U.S.-South Korea joint exercises and U.S. forces in South Korea play significant roles for the security in East Asia," Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters Wednesday. He said he planned to continue sharing that view with Washington and Seoul.

The U.S. has stationed combat troops in South Korea since the end of the Korean War and has used them in a variety of drills. The next scheduled major exercise, involving tens of thousands of troops, normally would be held in August.

Pompeo, after landing in South Korea, met for nearly an hour with Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces Korea. This morning, the secretary of state met with President Moon Jae-in before holding talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.

Moon said that Trump's summit with Kim has helped move the region "from the era of hostility toward the era of dialogue, of peace and prosperity." He added that he appreciated Trump's phone call during the president's flight back from Singapore to Washington.

Moon said he wants to hear how the parties can "fully and expeditiously implement this great agreement."

Kang told Pompeo that the recent developments offer a chance to "seize the momentum toward peace, denuclearization."

Kono said Japan will take steps to try to set up a meeting between Kim and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe but that talks would happen only if there is prospect for resolution of the issues of both North Korea's nuclear program and the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

During the summit with Kim, Trump was "unequivocal" about the need for North Korea to return abductees from Japan, Pompeo said.

Pompeo plans to fly to Beijing to update the Chinese government today.

While Trump was facing questions at home and among allies about whether he gave away too much in return for too little, North Korean state media heralded claims of a victorious meeting with the U.S. president. Photos of Kim standing side by side with Trump on the world stage were splashed across newspapers.

In North Korea on Wednesday, Pyongyang's first reports on the summit stressed to the nation's people that Trump had agreed to Kim's demand to halt the military exercises and suggested that Trump also said he would lift sanctions as the North meets its obligations.

"President Trump appreciated that an atmosphere of peace and stability was created on the Korean Peninsula and in the region, although distressed with the extreme danger of armed clash only a few months ago, thanks to the proactive peace-loving measures taken by the respected Supreme Leader from the outset of this year," the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency said in a summary of the meeting.

And while North Korean state media outlets had claimed that Trump and Kim agreed to "step-by-step" actions -- an apparent euphemism for phased sanctions relief in exchange for phased denuclearization -- Pompeo ruled that out. He insisted that Trump had been explicit about the sequencing from the start.

"We're going to get denuclearization," Pompeo said. "Only then will there be relief from the sanctions."

MILITARY TALKS

Today, the rival Koreas began rare high-level military talks to discuss reducing tensions across their heavily fortified border.

Seoul's Defense Ministry said the talks will focus on carrying out agreements from a summit between Kim and Moon where they vowed to take steps to reduce military tensions and eliminate the danger of war.

The discussions are the first general-level talks between the militaries since December 2007.

"We will invest our best efforts to bring in a new era of peace on the Korean Peninsula," South Korean Maj. Gen. Kim Do-gyun told reporters.

At a building on the northern side of Panmunjom, the South Korean officials were greeted by a North Korean delegation led by Lt. Gen. An Ik San, who joked that he was "very jealous" of the major general who probably was the first Korean soldier to cross the military demarcation line by foot and while wearing a uniform. It wasn't immediately clear whether An was right.

Information for this article was contributed by Matthew Pennington and Josh Lederman, Anne Flaherty, Noreen Nasir, Foster Klug, Adam Schrek, Eric Talmadge, Kim Tong-hyung and Mari Yamaguchi of The Associated Press; by Nick Wadhams, Jennifer Epstein and Stephen Treloar of Bloomberg News; and by Eileen Sullivan of The New York Times.

North Koreans watch a public television screen Wednesday in Pyongyang as it broadcasts a report about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s summit with Pr...

President Donald Trump arrives Wednesday at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., after his trip to Singapore.

A Section on 06/14/2018