U.S. Will Make No Concessions Before North Korea Talks, Pompeo Says

Updated on
  • CIA chief says Kim can’t conduct nuclear or missile tests
  • Mnuchin says economic sanctions on North Korea are working
Former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Chris Hill discusses upcoming negotiations with North Korea.

The U.S. will make no concessions to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in discussions leading to potential talks between the reclusive leader and President Donald Trump, and during any subsequent negotiations, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said.

Kim, on the other hand, must stand by the concessions he’s offered, including ceasing nuclear and missile testing, continuing to allow U.S.-South Korean military exercises, and leaving denuclearization “on the table,” Pompeo said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Mike Pompeo

Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg

“Never before have we had the North Koreans in a position where their economy was at such risk, and where their leadership was under such pressure that they would begin conversations on the terms that Kim Jong Un has conceded to,” Pompeo said.

The discussions with North Korea, should they occur, “will play out over time,” Pompeo said.

Trump may be meeting with Kim in the coming month, in the hopes of winding down the Asian nation’s nuclear weapons program, South Korean officials announced Thursday at the White House.

Stalling Tactic?

It would be an unprecedented meeting by a U.S. president that upends decades of American foreign policy. Some experts have said it could become a stalling tactic by Kim to avoid additional economic sanctions while continuing to develop weaponry.

Asked on ABC’s “This Week” program whether the meeting may not happen, White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said, “There’s the possibility. If it does, it’s the North Koreans’ fault. They have not lived up to the promises that they made.” Holding the meeting in Pyongyang is not “highly likely,” but nothing has been ruled out for a location, he said.

Pompeo said sanctions on North Korea will continue. There’s no question they are having an impact on North Korea’s economy and brought Kim to the negotiating table, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

“Now we have a situation where the president is using diplomacy, but we’re not removing the maximum pressure campaign,” Mnuchin said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The president is going to sit down and see if he can cut a deal.”

A man in Seoul reads a newspaper featuring Trump and Kim Jong Un on the front page on March 9.

Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg

No ‘Reality Show’

It’s right to pursue a diplomatic approach, but the question is whether Trump is equipped to succeed with a complex and volatile situation that needs seasoned diplomats, said Ben Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser for President Barack Obama.

“This is not a real estate deal or a reality show,” Rhodes said on ABC. But Pompeo, on Fox, said Trump “isn’t doing this for theater.”

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts also raised concerns about Kim playing Trump because of complicated negotiations a time the State Department has been “decimated” by departures of key staff, and with no U.S. ambassador to South Korea in place.

“When the president succeeds in negotiations like this, the United States succeeds,” Warren said on CNN’s “State of the Union. “But I am very worried that he’s going to go into these negotiations and be taken advantage of.”

‘Few Months’ Away

Pompeo spoke about Kim in January, saying the leader wouldn’t stop with just one successful arms test and that the country is within months of developing a nuclear missile capable of reaching the U.S. North Korea tested a missile in November that analysts say put U.S. soil in range, following other weaponry tests over the years.

It’s still the CIA’s assessment that North Korea is “a few months” away from being able to reach the U.S. with a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile, Pompeo said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

General Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Jan. 30 that while the regime has “made some strides,” it hasn’t yet demonstrated having all the components for a strike with nuclear ICBM.

“It’s possible he has them and so we have to place the bet that he might have them, but he hasn’t demonstrated them,” said Selva.

Kim Jong Un inspects the Hwasong-12 rocket in May 2017.

Photographer: KCNA/KNS/AFP via Getty Images

Prior to announcing the meeting, Trump and Kim have traded barbs and threats on the global stage, with Trump calling the North Korean “short and fat” and a “madman.” Kim responded by calling the president a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.” Trump also threatened to use military force if necessary to stop North Korea’s nuclear threat, saying the country would be met with “fire and fury.”

Preserving Regime

Pompeo on Sunday repeated his agency’s conclusion about Kim’s personality that in spite of the bombast, “we know a fair amount about him. We know that he is rational in the sense that he responds to stimulus. We’ve seen this.”

Trump vouched for Kim at the annual Gridiron Dinner in Washington on March 3, saying in a satirical speech to members of the media that, “I won’t rule out direct talks with Kim Jong Un. I just won’t. As far as the risk of dealing with a madman is concerned, that’s his problem, not mine.”

Still, Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Kim has shown he’s mostly interested in preserving his own regime.

“We’ve seen he’s willing to do nearly anything to do that,” Dempsey said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on Sunday. “And this is why this negotiation will be so challenging.”

A key question is whether any U.S.-North Korean talks include reducing the conventional military threat that Kim poses to South Korea as well as denuclearization, with its “thousands of artillery pieces and rockets arrayed along the Demilitarized Zone,” Dempsey said.

“Our negotiators will have to decide, how compartmentalized do we want it to be?” Dempsey said. “Are we trying to bring stability to the Korean Peninsula, which takes you on one path, or are we trying, simply, to denuclearize?” he said. “That will be an important decision.”

DIA Threat View

Dempsey’s view was underscored by Lieutenant General Robert Ashley, director of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency. Ashley told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 6 that “with its large artillery and infantry force forward-deployed,” Kim’s forces “can mount an attack on South Korean and U.S. forces with little or no warning.”

“Although resource shortages and aging equipment continue to hamper North Korea, its conventional military remains a major threat to South Korea,” Ashley said in his written statement.

Ashley also outlined the difficulty of targeting both North Korea’s nuclear and conventional capabilities as it “continues intense efforts to deny us information about its capabilities and intentions.”

Kim’s underground facilities program “is the largest in the world, and its primary function is to protect and conceal regime leaders, weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missiles, military forces, and defense industries,” Ashley said.

— With assistance by Mark Niquette

(Updates with Defense Intelligence Agency assessment after 24th paragraph.)
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