Pompeo says N. Korea’s plan for Yongbyon dismantlement was “incomplete”  

Posted on : 2019-03-02 13:13 KST Modified on : 2019-03-02 13:13 KST
US secretary of state rebukes Ri Yong-ho’s remarks, claiming North demanded total sanctions relief
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a joint press conference with Filipino Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alan Peter Schramm Cayetano in Manila on Mar. 1. (AP/Yonhap News)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a joint press conference with Filipino Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alan Peter Schramm Cayetano in Manila on Mar. 1. (AP/Yonhap News)

With North Korea and the US going back and forth over responsibility for the failure to reach an agreement at the Hanoi summit, the US has claimed that the plan North Korea reportedly promised for dismantlement of the Yongbyon nuclear complex was “incomplete.” It also reiterated its claim that North Korea demanded what amounted to a removal of all sanctions. The remarks were a renewed rebuttal to claims made in a late-night press conference by North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho.

During a Mar. 1 press conference in Manila, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the North Koreans were “pretty expansive with respect to what they were prepared to do at Yongbyon, but there were [sic] still not complete clarity with respect to the full scope of what it is they were prepared to offer.”

“[The North Koreans] basically asked for full sanctions relief,” he said. His remarks were another refutation of Ri’s claims in a post-summit press conference that North Korea had not demanded the removal of all sanctions, but only “provisions creating difficulties for the domestic demand economy and the people’s lives from among the five [UN Security Council resolutions] adopted between 2016 and 2017.”

Regarding Yongbyon, a senior State Department official explained, “It’s a substantial set of facilities on a single property,” adding that North Korea “struggled to give us a precise definition of what that was.”

The remarks seemed to suggest that the North Korea did not provide a satisfactory dismantlement plan for the Yongbyon nuclear complex, which includes over 300 facilities for areas such as plutonium and highly enriched uranium production. The official also said, “[T]he dilemma that we were confronted with is that the North Koreans at this point are unwilling to impose a complete freeze on their weapons of mass destruction programs.”

“So to give many, many billions of dollars in sanctions relief would in effect put us in a position of subsidizing the ongoing development of weapons of mass destruction in North Korea,” the official continued.

Pompeo reiterates US’ willingness to resume dialogue

At the same time, the US reiterated its willingness to resume dialogue. Pompeo described Washington as “anxious to get back to the table so we can continue that conversation.” But when asked by reporters during his flight to Manila about the timeline for resuming talks, he replied that it would “take a little while.”

“We’ll each need to regroup a little bit,” he said.

“[T]here has to be a reason for the conversations. There has to be a theory of the case about how to move forward,” he continued.

“[W]e’re hopeful that Special Representative [for North Korea Stephen] Biegun and that team will get together before too long,” he added.

Pompeo waved off claims that the negotiations had been a failure.

“You should not assume that we didn’t come to agreement on a whole number of issues,” he said.

“There have been lots of things that we’ve moved forward on, and I think we have a set of shared common understandings,” he added.

Pompeo also said, “I’ve seen enough congruence between what the two sides are trying to accomplish. I saw the goodwill between the two leaders.”

“Chairman Kim [Jong-un] reiterated on his trip he is fully prepared to denuclearize. He recommitted that they will not conduct missile tests, that he will not conduct nuclear tests,” he continued.

“Those remain as a pillar, as a foundation [for the continuation of dialogue],” he added.

“You heard the president say that he is committed still not to conduct the major [joint South Korea-US military] exercises. So there’s still a basis for believing that we can move forward,” he said.

His remarks sent the message that the US plans to continue maintaining the halt to North Korean nuclear and missile testing and the suspension of large-scale South Korea-US joint military exercises as a foundation for dialogue and mutual trust.

Trump made final decision to put off signing joint statement

Pompeo did not offer an explanation on what went awry with the summit, which appeared to be taking place amid a positive mood as late as the morning of Feb. 28. At the same time, he did share, “We worked through the night. We were very hopeful we’d make enough progress that it would justify a signing statement [by the two leaders] at the ultimate concluding, and we didn’t.”

“The president made that decision,” he added.

In response to continued questions from reports of the unusual situation of the joint statement signing ceremony being scheduled at a specific time only to be canceled, Pompeo said, “[W]e were hopeful even this morning [on Feb. 28].”

“[T]here was a lot of preparatory work,” he said.

“We got some [important decisions] on this trip, but you don’t know which ones you’re actually going to get until the two leaders actually have a chance to get together,” he also said.

Pompeo also said the US side was “prepared for the potentiality of this outcome [the agreement falling through] as well.”

In his remarks, Pompeo indicated that North Korea did not suddenly reverse on its previous pledges at the last minute. His remarks were seen as suggesting that working-level talks did produce a potentially acceptable agreement, but that the US ultimately failed to win concessions from North Korea that met US President Donald Trump’s expectations.

By Lee Bon-yeong, staff reporter

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