U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said North Korea continues to produce fissile material, during a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held in Washington.
In a wide-ranging and sometimes heated three hour session, Pompeo faced questions on various aspects of the current North Korea policy, including the outcomes of the Singapore summit and whether the DPRK remains a threat to the United States.
When asked a series of relatively rapid-fire questions from Senator Ed Markey on why Trump, in a tweet following the summit, had declared North Korea to be no longer a threat, Secretary Pompeo confirmed that the DPRK continues to produce fissile material and that there were no U.S. inspectors on the ground.
“Yes, (North Korea) continue to produce fissile material,” Pompeo said, later adding that he believes Trump understood that North Korea remains a threat.
But Pompeo was limited on the details he could give during the briefing, not wishing to damage future negotiations or disclose classified information, so would not answer in public whether North Korea was still developing its nuclear programs.
The Secretary of State did accept the North Korean government continued to violate the human rights of its citizens, and that it had not agreed to halt them.
“Senator, those human rights abuses continue today,” Pompeo added.
The Senate Committee also went without additional information on the status of North Korea’s nuclear stockpile, and whether the DPRK was continuing to develop its submarine ballistic missile development.
The Secretary of State also added he believed recent reports of North Korea dismantling a key missile testing facility to be verifiable progress towards denuclearization, while also citing the ongoing discussions with the DPRK as further progress.
“We are sitting at the table, having conversations,” Pompeo told the senators. “We have lots of discussions that I’m not going to get into here today.”
Pompeo testified before Congress in a sometimes-testy hearing on Wednesday
Pompeo also faced numerous questions on whether Washington and Pyongyang were operating on the same definition of denuclearization.
“As far as the Trump Administration’s goals on North Korea are concerned, nothing has changed,” he said during his testimony.
“Our objective remains the final, fully-verified denuclearization of North Korea, as agreed to by Chairman Kim Jong Un.”
The Secretary of State told senators that Kim had agreed to the U.S. definition of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID), adding the definition also included the DPRK’s biological and chemical weapons programs.
Pompeo added that CVID had been discussed during the Singapore summit, though “would rather not talk about” why the eventual agreement between the two leaders did not mention the term.
But Pompeo also hit back at comments from senators that Trump had not delivered results on North Korea and that the DPRK was walking back on commitments made during the summit.
The secretary of state said that the assembled lawmakers should not “fear” that the Trump administration was mishandling the North Korea issue, and pointed to “enormously constructive actions” such as leading the way on the sanctions at the UN.
“We are engaged in patient diplomacy, but we will not let this drag out to no end,” Pompeo said.
Yet at the same time, Washington’s top diplomat admitted that there was still a lot of work to do before the DPRK could be denuclearized.
“I will concede there is an awful long way to go, I’m not trying to oversell the accomplishments that we’ve had,” Pompeo said.
In answering questions from Senator Cory Gardner, Pompeo said that Washington’s policy was still one of maximum pressure, adding that there were still plenty of targets of additional sanctions.
“It is the case that this Administration is continuing to work on enforcement actions for the existing sanctions regime,” Pompeo said. “We’re not going to let it wander off, we’re not going to let it weaken. You can’t rename a ship and get out from underneath the sanctions regime.”
The Secretary of State also answered affirmatively that there were additional “North Korean or Chinese entities that could be identified for additional sanctions”, though would not answer a question on why there had been no recent designations.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: KCNA