Is the Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un summit still on? Mike Pompeo says yes — as far as the US is concerned, but only if denuclearization is the topic. “Our eyes are open to the lessons of history,” Pompeo declared in his opening statement at his first Capitol Hill hearing since being confirmed as Secretary of State. Trump will show up to establish “credible steps” toward the “complete, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” or not at all:
Sec. of State Mike Pompeo says U.S-North Korea summit is still set for June 12: "Our posture will not change until we see credible steps taken towards the complete, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula." https://t.co/FfkU7QhmZf pic.twitter.com/idTDtanwJY
— ABC News (@ABC) May 23, 2018
In his first committee hearing since he was nominated for the position, Mr. Pompeo told members that securing that complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization was the final goal.
“A bad deal is not an option,” he said in prepared remarks, repeating terminology favored by President Donald Trump.
But is it still on for the North Koreans? ABC reports that the US negotiating team got stood up by Pyongyang recently, which might have prompted Trump to reel back expectations at yesterday’s press avail with South Korean president Moon Jae-in:
A North Korean delegation failed to show up for a recent planning meeting with U.S. officials, @CeciliaVega reports, giving the White House cause for concern about upcoming potential summit. https://t.co/kQVygdDIPZ pic.twitter.com/ZS61A124H6
— ABC News (@ABC) May 23, 2018
It’s never a good sign when you’re stood up for a date, but in this case it’s part of a strategy of testing out opponents on both sides. The timing of this snub seems to be roughly around the same time that Pompeo offered a plan to Kim for verifiable denuclearization, earlier this month. The US proposed sending five warheads to France for dismantling, followed by IAEA inspections at all facilities connected to both their nuclear and ICBM programs. The latter was a concession from the US position a decade earlier, in which the Bush administration insisted that the inspection teams be American rather than international. Rather than take the offer, the Kim regime suddenly changed its public posture, demanding an end to joint military drills and canceling a meeting with a South Korean delegation.
Pompeo and Trump tested the North Koreans, and they’ve been testing the Trump administration right back. Both Pompeo and Trump have publicly suggested that they could walk away from the summit if North Korea won’t discuss denuclearization, and have held out economic concessions but only in an outcome rather than as a way to get to the table. North Korea now knows that Trump can wait them out without over-much concern over any political damage that might mean. And Trump and Pompeo know that North Korea still wants to play games with denuclearization.
The most interesting facet of this latest return jab is that Pompeo says the summit is still on schedule:
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says President Donald Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is “still scheduled for June 12,” despite suggestions by Trump that the historic gathering could be delayed. …
“We’re optimistic that we can achieve an outcome that will be great for the world,” Pompeo said.
That suggests that the North Koreans may be engaging more in public-relations pushback than a diplomatic brush-off, the canceled meeting notwithstanding. North Korea needs a resolution to the standoff far more than the US and its allies, and the maximum pressure isn’t getting lifted until a deal is cut. What happens at a summit still remains to be seen, but at least thus far Kim hasn’t gamed the US out of its demands or into any concessions. That, at least, is an improvement over past dances with the Kims.
Update: The signals are getting less subtle:
Pres Trump says “we will know next week” if the June 12th Summit in Singapore with Kim Jong-un will take place. Taking some questions on the way to Marine One, @POTUS said "it could very well be June 12th." "If we go, it'll be a great thing for North Korea." pic.twitter.com/pm4LSQCSzf
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) May 23, 2018
Meaning: If Kim wants economic relief, he’ll need to stick to the plan.