US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left Pyongyang without immediately announcing any breakthroughs in efforts to implement North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s agreement with President Donald Trump.
Pompeo held two days of meetings with senior North Korean officials led by top Kim aide, Kim Yong Chol, on concerns ranging from the regime’s nuclear arsenal to US security guarantees. It was unclear if the secretary of state met Kim Jong-un, as he did on his previous two visits to the isolated nation’s capital.
Pompeo was scheduled to arrive in Tokyo around 6:30 pm on Saturday local time. He spoke by phone with Trump earlier on Saturday and was expected to brief his Japanese and South Korean counterparts on the results of the trip during a series of meetings on Sunday.
Before events in Pyongyang had concluded, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters that Pompeo had been “very firm” in insisting that North Korea fulfills its commitment to “complete denuclearisation.”
She said the two sides had also discussed the return of the remains of American troops killed during the Korean War.
Pompeo’s visit represents the highest level meeting between US and North Korean officials since Trump and Kim Jong-un held their unprecedented summit in Singapore on June 12.
The secretary is under pressure to deliver a more concrete disarmament plan after the two leaders signed a vague 1-1/2 page document that didn’t provide a timetable for dismantling North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.
Trump has declared that North Korea was “ no longer a nuclear threat” and said Americans can “sleep well,” even though the regime holds as many as 60 nuclear bombs and missiles that could reach the US.
“Trump tried to sell this as a quickly achievable deal to denuclearise and now Pompeo and team are tasked with the impossible task of pushing forward on denuclearisation without a shared understanding with Pyongyang,” said Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor at the International Christian University in Tokyo.
Before Pompeo’s meeting with Kim Yong Chol there were hints of disagreements between the two sides.
Kim Yong Chol then said that there were still issues that needed to be made clear. “There are things that I have to clarify, as well,” Pompeo replied.
Before arriving, he also said in a tweet that he hoped to achieve North Korea’s “final, fully verified denuclearisation” — raising questions whether the administration had softened its longstanding goal of “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation.” “Our policy hasn’t changed,” Nauert said.
“Our expectation is exactly what the president and Kim Jong-un jointly agreed to in Singapore, and that is the denuclearisation of North Korea.”
The US is also seeking to repatriate the remains of American soldiers missing in North Korea for almost 70 years.
North Korea is holding about 200 sets of remains from among the some 5,300 American military personnel believed still lost in the country during the Korean War, according to Department of Defense estimates.