ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The State Department pushed back Thursday against suggestions the Trump administration has softened its stance on North Korea as the top U.S. diplomat traveled to Pyongyang for crucial nuclear talks and the president reiterated his belief that Kim Jong Un is sincere about changing his country.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due in the North Korean capital on Friday. He will be pressing for North Korea to take concrete action to back up its broad commitment to “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula made at the June 12 summit between Kim and President Donald Trump.
“Looking forward to continuing our work toward the final, fully verified denuclearization of #DPRK, as agreed to by Chairman Kim. Good to have the press along for the trip,” Pompeo tweeted Thursday. DPRK is the abbreviation of the authoritarian nation’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Despite reports that North Korea is continuing to expand facilities related to its nuclear and missile programs and that U.S. intelligence is skeptical about its intentions to give up its weapons, Trump has remained upbeat. Asked Thursday if North Korea was hiding nuclear facilities the president said: “We’ll see. All I can tell you is this. You haven’t had one missile launch and you haven’t had rocket launch or you haven’t had any nuclear tests.”
Speaking aboard Air Force One on a trip to Montana, Trump said he believed he forged a personal connection with the young autocrat he once pilloried as “Little Rocket Man.”
“I had a very good feeling about him. From the standpoint, I shook his hand, I felt we got along very well,” Trump told reporters. “I think we understand each other. I really believe that he sees a different future for North Korea. … I hope that’s true. If it’s not true, then we go back to the other way, but I don’t think that’s going to be necessary.”
It will be Pompeo’s mission to put that proposition to the test, amid questions about whether Trump, who has already ordered a suspension of large-scale U.S. military drills with South Korea, is over-eager to make his engagement with Kim appear a success. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told journalists accompanying Pompeo that U.S. policy has not changed and that, “We are committed to a denuclearized North Korea.”
There’s been mixed messaging from the administration before what promises to be a tough negotiation to get the Pyongyang to roll back its weapons capabilities.
National security adviser John Bolton, who has expressed hardline views on North Korea, said Sunday that Pompeo will present Pyongyang with a plan to complete the dismantling of the North’s nuclear and missile programs in one year. On Tuesday, Nauert walked that back, declining to give a timeline. Pompeo himself has previously said the U.S. wanted North Korea to take “major” disarmament steps in the next two years before Trump completes his first term in office.
This will be Pompeo’s third trip to North Korea in three months. He last visited in May ahead of the Trump-Kim summit and traveled there secretly in early April while he was director of the CIA.
Pyongyang will be the first stop on his first around-the-world trip as America’s top diplomat. He will then travel to Japan, Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates before heading to Belgium, where he will accompany Trump at the NATO summit in Brussels.