Politics

Here Are Mike Pompeo’s Six Biggest Challenges with North Korea

America's secretary of state faces multiple daunting tasks in turning promise of Singapore summit into reality

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has a long checklist of challenges he must overcome before a lasting deal that achieves President Donald Trump’s goal of the denuclearization of North Korea is possible.

U.S. Naval War College professor Terence Roehrig told LifeZette he sees six items on top of Pompeo’s checklist.

“I think the final deal will have to be something that is long term,” Roehrig told LifeZette. “I think it’s going to have to have specific verification measures in it. I think it’s going to have to be a step-by-step process.

“I think it will need tension reduction measures that may include some elements of regular dialogue, normal relations. I think the human rights question will have to be addressed. But again, it’s going to have to be something that looks like it is actually moving North Korea towards denuclearization.”

Other experts LifeZette interviewed agreed with Roehrig.

1.) A verification process. North Korea has a history of making, then ignoring, deals, so independent verification of the denuclearization process must be a key piece of a final deal. To be credible, the process has to be detailed and intrusive, including regular inspections and a complete list of nuclear materials and facilities.

“First thing is, there has to be a verification protocol that allows us to check on things,” Bruce Bennett, a senior defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, told LifeZette. “That has to be fairly intrusive. It’s got to be very large. There [are] probably a hundred facilities in North Korea that have to be checked out, monitors, and eventually confirmed that they have been disabled.”

Bennett adds that inspectors might not speak Korean, so translators will be needed who understand that North and South Korea use different terminologies to describe nuclear development.

Related: Here Are the Experts’ Must-Do’s for Denuclearizing Korea

“I think there will absolutely need to be inspections and a robust verification regime for this because, again, no surprise to anyone, there is very little trust on both sides,” Roehrig said. “So there is going to have to be a very important component to this of a verification regime. But that I think is going to be one of the long-term goals.”

Similarly, Yuki Tatsumi, co-director of the Stimson Center’s East Asia program, said, “Secretary Pompeo really needs to focus on what kind of specifics steps he can hammer out with North Korea when it comes to the denuclearization process. That includes what the verification mechanisms look like. How does North Korea ensure a very intrusive inspection can be done on the declared sites?”

2.) Revealing their nuclear capabilities. North Korea must produce a detailed list of its nuclear capabilities. Bennett believes the list must cover exactly what nuclear materials the country has and how large is its inventory.

“I would want to have a start of North Korea’s declaration of its nuclear program,” Bennett said. “I would want, in the short term, a short list of things like where do they have nuclear reactors, where do they have uranium enrichment, where do they have petroleum reprocessing, where do they have nuclear weapons assembly, where do they have ICBM production?”

3.) Stop nuclear development outright. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has begun scaling back parts of his nuclear program, but much of it continues even as tensions with the U.S. have eased. Ultimately, Pompeo must figure out how to stop the program outright.

“North Korea has never surrendered a nuclear weapon,” Bennett said. “They promised to go to zero on many occasions but never surrendered. We have to remember in the last six months that they’ve been doing this charm offensive, according to some media estimates, they probably made another three to six nuclear weapons. So they’re not denuclearizing — they’re going in exactly the opposite direction.”

Related: Trump Withdraws from North Korea Summit

Stopping the nuclear program early in the process would show the North Koreans are serious about reaching and keeping a deal. That would involve completely shutting down their nuclear facilities. He also believes North Korea should start surrendering some of their nuclear weapons early on to a country in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

4.) Nuclear dismantlement. North Korea claims to have stopped development, so surrendering its nuclear weapons stockpile is also a critical step in reaching a deal. The deal must include dismantlement so the program cannot be easily resumed.

“If you want a peace treaty, which is indeed a true and lasting peace, you got to then remove some of North Korea’s capabilities to abort that true and lasting peace,” Bennett said. “You can’t get rid of everything. But some degree of nuclear dismantlement would be a part of that. We would also want to see some dismantlement of at least part of their chemical and biological weapons program. Then we would want to see some degree of conventional arms control.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim discussed disarmament during their historic April 27 meeting.

5.) Figure out a compromise. The U.S. has led an international sanctions regime against North Korea, and Trump has also deployed a “maximum pressure” campaign against the country. The sanctions will become leverage points for Pompeo in talks with North Korea.

“We have to be looking at what kinds of things we might be able to concede as we go forward as well, because this is going to be a long process that is going to require some give and take on all sides,” Roehrig said. “And it will be important to see what we are willing to compromise on and what the North Koreans are going to be willing to compromise on.”

Roehrig warns against the U.S.’ giving up too much until North Korea proves it is committed to denuclearization. That means Pompeo must figure out what can be compromised and what must remain non-negotiable.

6.) Making a lasting deal. Pompeo must also secure agreement how to ensure a deal endures. Bennett notes that will involve reducing hostilities, maintaining rigorous inspections, and imposing consequences for noncompliance.

Related: North Korea ‘No Longer’ a ‘Nuclear Threat,’ Trump Claims

“We know that NoKo is going to cheat,” Bennett said. “They’re not going to describe all the weapons that they produce. They’re going to give us something less than a full disclosure. That’s why we need verification, but then we need some means of convincing the North Koreans that they need to be more forthcoming, and in practice punishing them for their failures to meet obligations.”

Connor Wolf covers Congress and national politics and can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.

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