Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, expressed cautious optimism Thursday about the prospects of an historic summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, all while signaling that a great deal of hard work remains to be done.
Coming off a meeting with North Korea’s former top spy, Pompeo said teams in the Demilitarized Zone and in Singapore are working hard to lay the groundwork for the meeting. He noted the North Korean official, Kim Yong-chol, would hand-deliver a letter from the North Korean leader to Trump in the White House.
“Our two countries face a pivotal moment in our relationship, in which it could be nothing short of tragic to let this opportunity go to waste,” Pompeo said.
The diplomatic dance has been delicate over the past few months, with Trump canceling a planned summit in Singapore only to revive the possibility a few days later.
Pompeo said Trump has made clear the United States insists on “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” of North Korea.
Pompeo declined to discuss details of the give-and-take that might characterize negotiations. But he dangled the carrot of a better situation for North Korea.
“President Trump has also made it clear that if Kim Jong-un denuclearizes, there is a brighter path for North Korea,” he said. “We envision a strong, connected and secure, prosperous North Korea that maintains its cultural heritage but is integrated into the community of nations.”
North Koreans have sent mixed signals. And Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the North Korean capital on Thursday called for denuclearization to be phased in, with some sanctions lifted before the country gives up its weapons. That is the opposite of the U.S. position.
Pompeo also appeared to encourage Kim with flattery.
“It will take bold leadership from Kim Jong-un if we are able to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the course for the world,” he said. “President Trump and I believe that Chairman Kim is the kind of leader who can make those kinds of decisions, and that in the coming weeks and months we will have the opportunity to test whether this is the case.”
Trump has broad support from leaders of his own party as a possible summit date approaches. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) told Fox News on Thursday that the two countries will be able to work out the logistics of the summit.
“In that vein, quite frankly, what President Trump is doing is a breath of fresh air,” he said. “It has been a long time since there has been this kind of reach-out to the North Korean leadership, and if that is successful, then who knows, peace may break out on the Korean peninsula. That would be great for that region of the world, and it would also be great for the United States of America.”
“Make no mistake, President Trump, this administration, understands how hard this problem is.”
Robert Kaufman, a professor of public policy at Pepperdine University in California, told LifeZette that the administration needs to guard against overeagerness for a deal. He said that is why it was so important that Trump demonstrated a willingness to walk away when he previously canceled the summit.
“I’m not sure about the prospects [for ultimate success], but I will say that I think the president has handled this absolutely right … He’s willing to have a deal on his terms,” he said.
Kaufman, who spent the past academic year as a visiting scholar in conservative thought at the University of Colorado Boulder, compared the Trump approach to that of Ronald Reagan during his meetings with then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
The ball is in Kim’s court, Kaufman said. Either he is willing to give up his nuclear weapons, or there will be no deal, he predicted.
“That’s the Gorbachev model,” he said.
Pompeo said the two sides have made real progress over the past 72 hours in setting the expectations for the summit. He said the goal is to put the two leaders in a position where they can achieve real progress when they do meet.
But Pompeo said the administration harbors no unrealistic illusions.
“Make no mistake, President Trump, this administration, understands how hard this problem is,” he said.