SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Thursday pushed back against a North Korean state media report that U.S. President Donald Trump agreed during this week’s Singapore summit with Kim Jong Un to gradually lift sanctions against Pyongyang, saying Trump had been very clear about the sequence of steps in the process.
The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Trump offered to lift sanctions against it as relations improve, indicating a phased-in approach where concessions would be provided at various stages of the denuclearization process.
Speaking at a news conference in Seoul alongside South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, the U.S. secretary of state said the Trump administration would not repeat the mistakes made by past presidents that rewarded Pyongyang for denuclearization promises.
“When we refer to the mistakes of the past. They were providing economic and financial aid relief before the complete denuclearization had taken place. That is not going to happen. President Trump made that clear,” Pompeo said.
President Trump described his meeting with Kim as a resounding success and in a tweet said, “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.” But the U.S.-North Korea joint declaration was vague on details, providing no clear definition on what constitutes denuclearization, set no timeline for the dismantlement process, and said nothing about outside verification requirements.
Pompeo, however, pointed out that in the Singapore statement both countries reaffirmed the inter-Korean Panmunjom declaration from April, in which both South and North Korea agreed to uphold all past agreements that did specify detailed nuclear prohibitions and verification requirements.
The secretary of state and his counterparts in Seoul and Tokyo said they are united in support of the U.S.-North Korea agreement, and in agreement on the goal of complete, irreversible, verifiable dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program.
After the summit, President Trump surprised allies in the region by calling the joint military exercises with South Korea “provocative” and saying they will no longer be held, as long as North Korea continues to make progress toward denuclearization.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang said the issue of these military drills was not discussed in detail at the U.S.-South Korea-Japan trilateral meeting, but she reaffirmed that the U.S.-South Korean military alliance remains strong, and they will continue to closely consult on all joint security decisions.
“The joint military drills between the U.S. and South Korea are a matter based on the alliance between the two countries, and are an issue to be decided between the military authorities after consultations. Regarding the alliance, we are dealing with all the issues under the premise that we maintain the ironclad joint defense posture. We have not spoken in depth about this topic between the three foreign ministers today,” Kang said.
U.S. officials said it was unclear what type of training involving U.S. and South Korean troops might now be stopped because of Trump’s order to end the “war games,” but the massive annual exercises that bring in nuclear-capable ships and warplanes from Guam and other U.S. bases in the region will likely end.
Overall the South Korean foreign minister voiced strong support for the Trump-Kim declaration agreement, calling it a “historic turning point” toward peace that will bolster political momentum toward action.
Japanese Foreign Minister Kono was more cautious in his praise. He also welcomed the diplomatic progress made at the summit, but sought clarification at the trilateral meeting that North Korea’s short-range ballistic missile arsenal that could target the mainland of Japan and its chemical weapons capability would also eliminated as part of the denuclearization deal.
And he sought reassurance that the U.S. military presence in Japan would not be reduced, after Trump indicated that he would like to withdraw all or some of the more than 28,000 troops in South Korea at some point, as both a cost saving measure, and to reduce a perceived overextended U.S. military presence overseas.
“We also understand that the United States maintains its commitment to defend allies and the Japan-U.S. security commitment and U.S. forces in Japan posture remain unchanged,” Kono said.
A number of analysts caution that the U.S.-North Korea denuclearization agreement has not produced any reduction in the North Korea nuclear or missile threat, and they remain skeptical that the Kim government will agree to dismantle its entire nuclear and missile weapons programs that has long been seen as vital to it survival.
Lee Yoon-jee in Seoul contributed to this report.