State Department Announces Deadline for North Korea Denuclearization

Mike Pompeo to meet with North Korean counterpart at G-20 meeting in New York
September 20, 2018 Updated: September 20, 2018

The U.S. State Department said for the first time that it has a deadline for North Korea to denuclearize: January 2021, according to comments by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The deadline was announced as South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong Un, wrapped up a three-day summit in Pyongyang.

In the same announcement, Pompeo said he has invited his North Korean counterpart, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, to meet during a nine-day UN General Assembly meeting in New York that starts on Sept. 25.  He also said the United States has invited North Korean representatives to meet the U.S. special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, in Austria “at the earliest opportunity.”

“I talk to my counterparts [in North Korea] with some frequency,” Pompeo told Fox News host Laura Ingraham. “It doesn’t get reported. I’m glad about that; I’m glad we’re able to keep that quiet. And so, we’re making the progress that we need.”

Pompeo said the United States is ready to engage after North Korean leader Kim reaffirmed his commitment to denuclearization, which he had promised President Donald Trump at their historic June meeting in Singapore.

At that summit, Trump said that Kim threw out the timetable of one year for the denuclearization process, although that timetable was never set as a demand from the White House. The United States worked with other nations to impose sanctions on North Korea and has said that it will continue to impose sanctions until North Korea has shown that it has dismantled its nuclear facilities.

The announcement to re-engage is no small measure of progress, after Trump canceled a trip that Pompeo was scheduled to take to North Korea in late August because the United States hadn’t seen enough progress on denuclearization.

Another point of progress the White House pointed to is the lack of missiles on display during this year’s annual founding day parade.

After Moon’s trip to North Korea on Sept. 19, the South Korean president said that Kim had “expressed his wish”  to complete denuclearization quickly and to focus on economic development. But that wish seemed to come with some stipulations.

Kim agreed to have inspectors from the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) present during the dismantling of its nuclear facility in Yongbyon and the missile engine testing site and launch pad at Tongchang-ri, “if the United States takes corresponding steps in line with the spirit of the June 12 DPRK–U.S. joint statement,” according to North Korean state-run media.

What those “steps” are is unclear.

Publicly, Moon has said that the United States must end its “hostile stance” toward North Korea before it would dismantle its nuclear weapon facilities.

“As North Korea takes denuclearization processes and measures, accordingly, the U.S. will end the hostile stance toward the north, building a new relationship with the North. And then the North will further accelerate the move toward denuclearization,” he said during a Sept. 19 press conference, when asked about what North Korea’s demands to the United States were.

In the past, Kim has asked for an official end to the Korean War. In 1953, the two sides agreed to an armistice but not a peace treaty.

North and South Korea have reaffirmed their commitment to the Panmunjom Declaration to end the war and promote economic unification, which they signed in April.

They have also agreed to a no-fly zone above the demilitarized zone, to dismantle several armed guard posts, and to halt military drills near the border, as well as put in a joint bid for the 2032 summer Olympics and hold another high-level meeting in Seoul.

After their meeting, Trump told reporters this showed “tremendous progress” with North Korea.

Russia and China

Russia and China have taken heat from Washington for meddling in sanctions that both countries agreed to as members of the U.N. Security Council.

Trump said in August, he was postponing Pompeo’s trip to North Korea until after the China–U.S. trade relationship was on better ground. “Because of our much tougher trading stance with China, I do not believe they are helping with the process of denuclearization as they once were (despite the UN Sanctions, which are in place),” Trump said in an Aug. 24 tweet.

Russia has also aroused the ire of the United States for allegedly tampering with a report on ship-to-ship oil transfers to North Korea not allowed under UN sanctions.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said that a report on compliance with the sanctions was edited by Russia before it was submitted to a committee, and that the information that was omitted was all transgressions by Russia.

Russia can’t be allowed to edit and obstruct independent U.N. reports on North Korea sanctions just because they don’t like what they say. Period,” Haley said in a statement.

This comes after Russia and China suggested easing sanctions on North Korea after Trump and Kim’s meeting in Singapore, which the United States declined to entertain.

Follow Holly on Twitter: @HollyGailK