Pompeo and North Korean Official Meet for 2nd Day of Talks

Pompeo and North Korean Official Meet for 2nd Day of Talks

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with the North Korean official Kim Yong-chol on Saturday in Pyongyang, the North’s capital. Mr. Pompeo told Mr. Kim that “building a relationship between our two countries is vital for a brighter North Korea.”Pool photo by Andrew Harnik

PYONGYANG, North Korea — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart began their meetings on Saturday with the customary flowery greetings. But just before reporters were pushed out of the room, the exchange acquired an edge.

“There are things that I have to clarify,” said Kim Yong-chol, a senior North Korean official who has been negotiating with Americans for decades.

“There are things that I have to clarify as well,” Mr. Pompeo quickly responded.

As the two men began their second day of talks in the North Korean capital, there was, indeed, much to be clarified. Mr. Pompeo was in Pyongyang to get the North Koreans to match their vague commitment to denuclearization — signed by Kim Jong-un, the North’s leader, in his meeting last month with President Trump — with specific promises.

Privately, Mr. Pompeo has said that he doubts Mr. Kim will ever give up his nuclear weapons. But he hopes that these follow-up talks will at least get the North Koreans to reveal their true intentions fairly quickly, according to one senior administration official.

Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, said later Saturday that Mr. Pompeo had “been very firm” in insisting on North Korea’s complete denuclearization, as well as on the repatriation of the remains of American service members killed in the Korean War — another commitment made by Mr. Kim last month.

Mr. Pompeo began his day Saturday by leaving the elaborate guesthouse where he was staying to make a secure phone call to President Trump. Also on the call were John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, and John Kelly, the White House chief of staff. State Department officials have assumed that listening devices are planted throughout the guesthouse.

A small group of reporters traveling with Mr. Pompeo have been allowed into the Pyongyang meetings to record their initial moments, as is routine for such diplomatic encounters. But the North Koreans, unaccustomed to the presence of independent journalists, have allowed the reporters to stay several minutes longer than usual.

On Saturday morning, those extra moments led to the recording of an unusually lengthy exchange between Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Kim.

“This isn’t your first visit to our country, yet this is your first night in our country,” Mr. Kim began. “Did you sleep well last night?”

“I did, I did, thank you for the accommodation,” Mr. Pompeo answered. The American delegation is staying at the Paekhwawon guesthouse, an elaborate facility just outside Pyongyang, beside a small lake with a tiny island in the center. The place has the feel of a minor Middle Eastern palace, with high ceilings, gold carpets and stiff mattresses. Soldiers with rifles and fixed bayonets patrolled the perimeter of the guesthouse overnight (quickly disappearing into the shrubbery when a reporter jogged by).

“The area around this Paekhwawon guesthouse is full of trees and plants, and the air is really fresh, so it is a good place for people over 50,” Mr. Kim said.

“That would include me,” Mr. Pompeo replied with a chuckle.

“But we did have very serious discussion on very important matters yesterday,” Mr. Kim said. “So thinking about those discussions, you might have not slept well last night.”

“Director Kim, I slept just fine,” Mr. Pompeo responded, as an edge crept into his voice. “We did have a good set of conversations yesterday. I appreciate that, and I look forward to our continued conversations today as well.”

Mr. Pompeo then glanced toward his staff, perhaps expecting the reporters to be ushered out. But Mr. Kim continued:

“Since this is the first high-level discussion between our two countries since the Singapore summit, and hence the political field of the United States and the entire world is playing close attention to our meeting,” he said. “We have not yet announced the outcomes of our meeting, but the outside seems to think this is going well.

“And I have heard the news that Secretary Pompeo is quite pleased with the meeting,” he said. “We are just doing our best we can to make your stay comfortable.”

“We consider this very important, too, since it is the first senior-level face-to-face meeting since the summit between our two leaders,” Mr. Pompeo said. He added that “building a relationship between our two countries is vital for a brighter North Korea and the success that our two presidents demand of us.”

That was a slip, according to Sung-Yoon Lee, a Korea analyst at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He noted that Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founding leader, who died in 1994, is considered the North’s “eternal president,” and that Kim Jong-un, his grandson, would never dare to assume the title.

Mr. Lee was also critical of the State Department’s announcement Saturday that it had created a small working group to keep hammering out the details of a denuclearization agreement. Mr. Lee said that such groups were a feature of past nuclear agreements with the North, which served only to postpone their eventual failure.

“Forming small working groups is another stalling, ensnaring tactic to keep the momentum and create the illusion of cooperation,” Mr. Lee said.

Many people who have negotiated with North Korea in the past, or who follow the country closely, believe what Mr. Pompeo has said privately: that the North has no intention of surrendering its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and that the negotiations will inevitably fail. Ms. Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, denied Saturday that Mr. Pompeo saw the process as doomed.

“There’s a lot of hard work that’s left to be done,” she said. “We never thought this would be easy, and that’s why consultations continue.”

For months, Mr. Pompeo said he would insist on achieving nothing less than the North’s “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization” — or C.V.I.D., as it has become known. But in recent days, Mr. Pompeo and Ms. Nauert have stopped using the phrase, leading to speculation that the United States has begun to dial back its demands.

Ms. Nauert said Saturday that there has been no softening of the American position, although she would not explain the change in language.

Negotiations were expected to end Saturday afternoon, with Mr. Pompeo and his delegation scheduled to fly on to Tokyo.

The North Korean officials appear to be avid consumers of American news coverage. On Friday, as reporters were taken in a van from the airport to the guesthouse, a media handler noted that there was no one from CNN or NBC — two frequent targets of President Trump’s criticism — in the group.

“In this van, no fake news,” joked the official, Kim Kwang-hak. Asked what he expected to come out of the meetings, he said: “We’ll see, like your president says.”

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Source of this (above) article: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/07/world/asia/mike-pompeo-north-korea-pyongyang.html

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