North Korea state media: Damn, that was a good meeting with Pompeo

I don’t speak Korean, but this NBC clip has explanatory subtitles for the news coverage of Mike Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang. Even without those, though, the major-chord military march and the cheery butteriness of the announcer’s voice makes it pretty clear that Kim Jong-un’s official media was pretty darned stoked after the Secretary of State’s official follow-up to the June summit. Kim himself called the talks “productive and wonderful,” with talk of a second summit now percolating:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had “productive talks” with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on Sunday, with the pair reportedly agreeing to hold a summit between Kim and President Trump as soon as possible.

Pompeo and Kim met for about two hours and then had a 90-minute lunch together. South Korea later said the two men agreed to a second Kim-Trump summit “at the earliest possible date.” …

As the pair sat for lunch, Kim said, “It’s a very nice day that promises a good future for both countries.”

It did seem pretty chummy, especially after the official reaction to Pompeo’s last visit. North Korean media didn’t waste much time after his June visit in calling his proposals “gangster-like,” and accused him of raising “cancerous” issues like human-rights reforms. It was all sweetness and light during the luncheon, via Time Magazine:

Just how much progress was made on denuclearization, however? Pompeo says that Kim is prepared to negotiate international inspections to verify his steps toward that end. The Telegraph notes that North Korean state media made no mention of this, however:

Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, said on Monday North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was ready to allow international inspectors into the North’s nuclear and missile testing sites, one of the main sticking points over an earlier denuclearisation pledge.

Mr Pompeo, who met Mr Kim during a short trip to Pyongyang on Sunday, said the inspectors would visit a missile engine test facility and the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site as soon as the two sides agree on logistics. …

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement Mr Kim had invited inspectors to visit the Punggye-ri nuclear test site to confirm it had been irreversibly dismantled. The statement did not provide further details.

KCNA did not mention that issue.

That could be a significant concession, one that might make a second summit more of a traditional platform for announcing agreements. The question would be what concession the US gave up in exchange for that step. Kim has insisted on paired good-faith steps all along the way, which the US has resisted due to the Kim regime’s history of reneging on such agreements. It’s a question that goes straight to the heart of Pompeo’s claim of having had a “productive” meeting with Kim.

NBC reports that experts aren’t all that impressed with Pyongyang’s latest offer anyway:

“This is almost them reselling the same car to the Americans,” said Andrea Berger, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. “We’re not inspecting a new action or a new facility. They already dismantled the site.” …

Inviting inspectors to an old testing site is an example of this calculus, according to Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT.

“Kim has mastered the art of milking a single cosmetic concession for months to burn clock,” he wrote on Twitter.

James Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace, called the invitation to Punggye-ri “a joke” and “pure PR.”

The NBC report does note, though, that the supposed demolition of Punggye-ri was only witnessed by journalists, not international inspectors. Moreover, they observed it at a distance, later only getting an outside view. In order to fully credit this as a concession, inspectors will have to get a close look at what Kim’s regime did to Punggye-ri, and to ensure that it can’t be reaccessed through other means. That might still qualify as “milking” it, depending on how unfettered the inspection might be, but it’s going to be a necessary step at some point.

This may not be as productive as Pompeo would like to claim, but it still beats being on the edge of war on the Korean Peninsula — especially with the maximum-pressure campaign still active. It’s worth playing out the string, as long as we keep that pressure in place.