About the Author
Jacob Fromer is NK News's Washington DC correspondent. He previously worked in the U.S. Senate.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the end of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program a “joint objective” for Washington and Moscow on Tuesday at a press conference with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.
The two top diplomats met at the State Department and addressed reporters on a range of foreign policy issues, including North Korea, on a busy day in Washington that also featured the release of articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump and a massive North American trade deal.
According to Pompeo, he and his Russian counterpart were seeing the North Korean nuclear issue eye-to-eye: “We agreed on the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea as our joint objective,” he said.
Lavrov did not dispute Pompeo’s assertion, but used slightly different wording when he addressed the same issue in his own remarks, minutes later.
“We are promoting denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” Lavrov said.
The comments from Pompeo and Lavrov come at a tense moment in Washington’s relationship with Pyongyang.
As of Tuesday, just three weeks remain before the looming year-end deadline for a nuclear deal between the U.S. and DPRK, set in place months ago by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, arrives.
At issue are questions related to the U.S. troop presence on the Korean peninsula, sanctions relief for North Korea, and the fate of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
In recent months, Washington, Pyongyang, and Moscow have all attempted various forms of diplomacy, from letters and meetings to insults and threats, to find a way out of the impasse.
None of it has seemed to work.
Trump and Kim Jong Un even sent envoys to Sweden in early October, for a rare face-to-face meeting, but they walked away after 8.5 hours without a deal and with even higher tensions than before.
At least one cause of the ongoing stalemate may be apparent in the wording of Pompeo and Lavrov’s competing statements on Tuesday.
The subtle distinction in language — denuclearization of “North Korea” versus denuclearization of “the Korean peninsula” — actually hides a wide disagreement between the two sides, according to Sue Mi Terry, a North Korea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and former intelligence official.
Essentially, the Americans want only North Korea to get rid of its nuclear weapons — but the DPRK wants everyone on the peninsula, including the U.S., to get rid of them.
“Peninsula — that’s the huge thing,” Terry told NK News in an interview. “There has not been an agreed upon definition of denuclearization, so that’s why you’ll see, at every opportunity, Pompeo and Lavrov not being on the same page.”
At the press conference, Pompeo also reasserted that “Chairman Kim personally made the commitment to denuclearize.”
And later in the day, at his own meeting with Lavrov, President Trump called on the Russians to “ensure the denuclearization of North Korea,” according to a readout from the White House.
“Forget the roadmap, forget the timeline, forget everything else,” Terry said. “If you don’t even have an agreed-upon definition, where do you go from there?”
“It’s just Pompeo and Trump saying what is more expedient for them. It’s spinning it to their version,” she said. “But there has never been an agreement.”
Featured image: State Department