Mike Pompeo, U.S. secretary of state, speaks during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. (Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Pompeo Eases Demand That North Korea Give Up Nukes Immediately

(Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo eased off U.S. demands that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons immediately in exchange for sanctions relief, saying instead that the Trump administration wants Kim Jong Un’s regime to take “credible steps” toward that goal.

Pompeo Eases Demand That North Korea Give Up Nukes Immediately

Pompeo’s testimony Wednesday to the House Foreign Affairs Committee marked a significant walking back from rhetoric that North Korea has scorned, raising doubts about the meeting between Kim and President Donald Trump have planned for Singapore on June 12. Trump told reporters Wednesday that “we will know next week about Singapore.”

North Korea has insisted it won’t give up its nuclear weapons program without major concessions from the U.S. Presenting the latest formulation of U.S. policy, Pompeo told the House panel, “Our posture will not change until we see credible steps taken toward the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. It’s time to solve this once and for all.”

The U.S. wants a “rapid” process in which North Korea’s abandonment of its nuclear program is “total and complete, that won’t be extended over time,” Pompeo said of the agenda for the planned summit. “If we can get the two to agree that that’s the end state we’re working for, we will have a good day.”

Pompeo didn’t define what “credible steps” by North Korea might look like, giving the administration leeway to make that decision later -- and possibly to declare victory from a summit without an unambiguous timetable from North Korea.

Trump agreed in March to meet with Kim in response to an invitation relayed by South Korea, without first consulting his advisers or running through possible outcomes. A failed summit would damage Trump’s self-promoted image as a master deal-maker. He’s said he will succeed where his predecessors failed in persuading North Korea to give up its ambitions to become a nuclear superpower.

Pompeo’s reformulation of the U.S. demands was presaged by Trump on Tuesday, when a reporter asked if Kim could be expected to give up his nuclear capabilities all at once.

“All-in-one would be nice, I can tell you,” Trump said. “I’m not going to go beyond that. It would certainly be better if it were all-in-one. Does it have to be? I don’t think I want to totally commit myself.”

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