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Pompeo pushes back against North Korea’s ‘gangster-like’ criticism

Mike Pompeo, U.S. secretary of state, on April 12, 2018. (Bloomberg / Bloomberg)
Mike Pompeo, U.S. secretary of state, on April 12, 2018. (Bloomberg / Bloomberg)
By John Hudson and Adam Taylor Washington Post

TOKYO – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shot back against North Korea on Sunday, saying the regime’s criticism that U.S. negotiators acted in a “gangster-like” way during his two-day visit to Pyongyang was unfounded.

“If those requests were gangster-like, the world is a gangster,” said Pompeo, noting that U.S. demands for North Korea to denuclearize were supported by a consensus at the U.N. Security Council.

The secretary of state also said that despite a critical statement released by North Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday night, he thought the two sides had made progress during the meeting and that his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yong Chol, negotiated in “good faith” during the meeting.

Pompeo added that the U.S. and world powers would maintain economic sanctions against North Korea until full denuclearization was achieved.

America’s top diplomat was speaking in Tokyo, where he had met with the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea as well as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss the progress made during his trip to North Korea. Pompeo had visited the isolated nation Friday in a bid to further a recent denuclearization agreement.

As Pompeo left the North Korean capital Saturday, he told reporters that the trip had been “productive” and that progress had been made on a number of issues.

However, the North Korean Foreign Ministry later released a lengthy statement that criticized the U.S. focus on nuclear weapons. “The U.S. side came up only with its unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization,” the North Korean statement said.

Pompeo downplayed North Korea’s criticism on Sunday, telling a reporter that Pyongyang did not have an issue with the idea of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization – a term better known by its acronym, CVID – despite the North Korean Foreign Ministry singling out the phrase in its statement.

“It’s a broad definition,” Pompeo said. “The North Koreans understand that and have not challenged that.”

Pompeo also said that the United States was working to ensure the security assurances that the North Koreans need to continue with denuclearization. “The economic sanctions are a different kettle of fish altogether,” he said. “The world will see continued enforcement efforts by the United States in the days and weeks ahead.”

Japan’s Abe had praised Pompeo for his strong leadership on the issue after speaking with the Secretary of State Sunday. “This really shows the unwavering bond of the Japan-U.S. alliance,” Abe said.

In South Korea, where President Moon Jae-in has emerged as a key facilitator of U.S.-North Korea talks, the government also suggested it was taking a cautiously optimistic view of events.

“The U.S.-N.K. talks held in Pyongyang this time marked the first step in a journey towards denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Kim Eui-keum, a presidential spokesman, told reporters Sunday. “As in our old saying: A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step. The start is the most important event in the whole process.”

Analysts said that North Korea’s statement was not unexpected but that there may indeed be a long way to go in U.S.-North Korea talks, as both sides were coming to the table with fundamentally different views of what they were bargaining with.

“These stumbling blocks and tactics are normal,” said Duyeon Kim, a fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum. “But Washington should not allow nuclear talks to be held hostage to peace talks or else there could be peace with a nuclear-armed North Korea indefinitely.”

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