TOKYO/SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Saturday he had made progress “on almost all of the central issues” in talks with North Korea, including on setting a timeline for its denuclearisation, but work remained to be done.
Speaking to reporters after a day and a half of talks in Pyongyang, Pompeo said the two sides agreed to hold discussions on July 12 on the repatriation of remains of Americans killed in the 1950-53 Korean War, and also discussed “modalities” for the destruction of a missile engine testing facility.
Pompeo said he spent “a good deal of time” discussing a denuclearisation timeline and declaration of the North’s nuclear and missile facilities.
“I think we made progress in every element of our discussions,” he said, according to a pool report from U.S. reporters who accompanied him to Pyongyang.
“These are complicated issues but we made progress on almost all of the central issues. Some places a great deal of progress, other places there’s still more work to be done,” he said.
Before leaving North Korea for Tokyo, Pompeo shook hands with his interlocutor, Kim Yong Chol, a top North Korean party official and former spy agency chief, with whom he played a key role in arranging an unprecedented summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12.
“We will produce an outcome, results,” Kim told Pompeo via a translator, according to the pool report.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Pompeo did not meet Kim Jong Un as he had done on his two previous visits to North Korea this year, but handed over a letter to him from Trump.
Asked about reports based on U.S. intelligence assessments that North Korea had continued to develop its nuclear facilities even while engaging in dialogue, Pompeo said:
“We talked about what the North Koreans are continuing to do and how it’s the case that we can get our arms around achieving what Chairman Kim and President Trump both agreed to, which is the complete denuclearization of North Korea.
“There is no — no one walked away from that, they’re still equally committed, Chairman Kim is …still committed,” he said.
Nauert said the July 12 meeting, which Pompeo said would take place at the intra-Korean border, would be at working level and involve U.S. Defense Department officials.
“That process will begin to develop over the days that follow,” Pompeo said about the repatriation of remains.
Kim Yong Chol said earlier that he and Pompeo had had “very serious discussion on very important matters yesterday”. He joked that, as a result, Pompeo “might have not slept well last night” at the prestigious Paekhwawon, or 100 Flowers Garden, guest house in what was his first overnight stop in North Korea.
Pompeo reiterated that Trump was “committed to a brighter future for North Korea”.
“So the work that we do, the path toward complete denuclearisation, building a relationship between our two countries, is vital for a brighter North Korea and the success that our two presidents demand of us,” Pompeo said.
Kim agreed that the work was important. “There are things that I have to clarify,” he said.
Pompeo responded: “There are things that I have to clarify as well.”
SUMMIT SHORT ON DETAILS
Kim Jong Un made a broad commitment to “work toward denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula” in Singapore but offered no details of how or when North Korea might dismantle a weapons program that Trump has vowed will not be allowed to threaten the United States.
Nauert said Pompeo had been “very firm” on three basic goals: the complete denuclearisation of North Korea, security assurances, and the repatriation of U.S. remains from the 1950-53 Korean War.
She said there had been no softening in the U.S. positions, although she would not explain why the department no longer defines its aim as “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation” (CVID).
“Our policy hasn’t changed,” she said several times when asked about CVID. “Our expectation is exactly what the president and Kim Jong Un jointly agreed to in Singapore, and that is the denuclearisation of North Korea.”
Trump committed in Singapore to providing “security guarantees” to North Korea and Washington later called off one of its major joint military exercises with South Korea, which Pyongyang regularly denounces as rehearsals for invasion.
Nauert said U.S. and North Korean officials had set up working groups to deal with “nitty gritty stuff”, including verification of efforts to achieve denuclearisation, which would be headed on the U.S. side by Sung Kim, a Korean-American who is also ambassador to the Philippines.
North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said Pompeo’s delegation was taking part in high-level talks for implementing the Singapore summit statement but gave no more details.
Pompeo said before arriving in North Korea he was seeking to “fill in” some details on North Korea’s commitments and maintain the momentum towards implementing the agreement from the summit.
U.S. intelligence officials told Reuters before the latest talks Pompeo would try to agree on at least an initial list of nuclear sites and an inventory that could be checked against available intelligence.
Trump said after the Singapore summit Kim had agreed to send the remains back to the United States, but that still has not taken place.
Both issues are considered essential tests of whether Kim is serious about talks. North Korean officials have yet to demonstrate that in working-level talks, the intelligence officials said.
Some officials in the State and Defense Departments and inU.S. intelligence agencies are worried Trump has put himself at a disadvantage by overstating the results of the Singapore summit.
Pompeo had said before Singapore Trump would reject anything short of “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation”.
The State Department says pressure will remain until North Korea denuclearises but, in statements this week, it redefined the U.S. goal as “the final, fully verified denuclearisation” of the country.
Some U.S. officials and experts have said the change in language amounted to a softening in approach. The State Department said its policy remains unchanged.
Pompeo’s talks will be closely watched in the region. He is due to meet officials from allies South Korea and Japan in Tokyo on Sunday.
Reporting by Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL and David Brunnstrom in TOKYO; Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham and David Chance in WASHINGTON; Editing by Paul Tait and Helen Popper