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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signaled hopes Thursday for a third summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as the two sides remain at odds over denuclearization negotiations.
Speaking at the National Review Institute’s 2019 Ideas Summit, he described his confidence in Kim Jong Un as a competent negotiator fully aware of the two countries’ rocky history, but questioned whether his “thoughtful” approach alone would produce a deal “the next time our two leaders meet.”
“I hope there will be a next time before too long,” he added. “Chairman Kim has made these promises. He’s made this… set of promises to me personally, he’s made them to the President on a number of occasions.”
“Ultimately,” he said, positive results will depend on “whether we can convince him that it’s the right strategic direction for him and for his country.”
Kim Jong Un has not, however, “yet demonstrated that he is prepared to fulfill the commitment that he made” to denuclearize.
The Secretary of State on Wednesday also told a hearing before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs that he has “not yet seen [Kim Jong Un] take the big step” the two sides discussed during their first meeting in Pyongyang in May last year.
He claimed that the conversation the two had at the time revolved around trading the North’s nuclear program for a “brighter future,” but added that at present, “we have not seen them take a step in that direction yet.”
While striking an optimistic tone – saying that Kim Jong Un and others during the Hanoi summit “still tell us they’re committed” – he added that “it’s time that we begin to see real actions in that regard.”
Answering questions from members of Congress, he again spelled out the expected sequence of events, saying that the first steps in the U.S.’s “mission set is, in fact, to get the proliferation risk reduced, to get North Korea denuclearized.”
“And then our commitment is to say at that point, we want a brighter future for the people of North Korea.”
With regards to how this may take shape in the long run, he described a situation where Kim Jong Un continues to lead North Korea as the “form of government that takes place there will evolve over time.”
“We have seen countries in the region who haven’t fully transformed in the way we like – countries like Vietnam – be able to grow their economy and provide better for their people,” he said. “We think that opportunity exists in North Korea, as well.”
At the Ideas Summit on Thursday, he elaborated that he and others from the U.S. side have assured Kim Jong Un in previous discussions that Washington “will be there to ensure that there’s a brighter future for the North Korean people.”
But Pompeo repeated the caution that “there’s obviously a long ways to go” and that negotiations “will be filled with uncertainty and there’ll be bumps in the road,” signaling that sanctions enforcement remains a priority in the meantime.
“We have the toughest sanctions in the history – on North Korea – and I think the most promising diplomatic engagement, and we’re doing those both at the same time,” he said.
Part of recent enforcement efforts, he added, is the continued work by Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun on rallying allies and others – including China – behind sustained international sanctions enforcement.
Noting Biegun’s trip to Beijing this week, Pompeo said speaking to Congress on Wednesday that the Special Representative has “been working with our allies in the region, South Korea and Japan, to ensure that we keep the pressure campaign, that we continue to enforce the UN Security Council resolutions, and then continue our diplomatic efforts to achieve this outcome.”
State Department spokesperson Robert Palladino confirmed Thursday in a briefing that Biegun had returned to Washington after talks to coordinate with Beijing over their shared commitment to “the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea.”
Palladino declined to provide details of the discussion or say whether Biegun met any North Korean officials who were in Beijing at the same time on their way to Laos.
The Secretary of State, meanwhile, is scheduled to meet South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha in Washington on Friday for their first face-to-face talks following the failed summit in Hanoi at the end of last month.
The Blue House also on Friday announced that President Moon Jae-in and President Trump will meet for their first summit since Hanoi on April 11 in Washington.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: White House