Pompeo delivers letter from Trump to North Korea's Kim Jong-un

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho received a letter from President Trump via the U.S. delegation Saturday in Indonesia. Gathering in Singapore, The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)  meeting included both encouragement and criticism from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo aimed at potential Russian interference in the U.S. – North Korean relationship now being forged by President Trump and Pompeo.

In a day of head-snapping twists of tone at the annual conference of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Singapore, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Russia not to help North Korea cheat on U.N. sanctions that Moscow had voted for.

Then, just a few short hours later, Pompeo and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho approached each other for a public handshake and exchanged promising pleasantries with big smiles. According to State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, Pompeo suggested they would talk soon, and Ri agreed, adding, “There are many productive conversations to be had.”

Delivered by Ambassador to the Philippines, Sung Kim, the large white envelope contained a letter from President Trump to Kim Jong-un, though the State Department’s spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, declined to talk about the contents of the letter.

While the full contents were unknown, Pompeo tweeted later Saturday that the letter was Trump’s reply to a missive the president received from Kim last week, which White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Saunders characterized as a “follow-up” to their June summit in Singapore. In his own tweet, Trump described Kim’s letter as “nice,” breezily adding, “I look forward to seeing you soon!”

Then the back-slapping and goodwill ended when Ri started smack-talking the United States after Pompeo departed to travel to Singapore. Ri addressed the forum with his criticisms on the hard stance by President Trump that the U.S. sanctions will remain in place until disarmament is complete. Ri called for confidence-building measures along the way.

As recently as last Friday, though, a new report from the U.N. shows that North Korea continues to move forward developing nuclear weapons and with its missile program. Pompeo has made it clear that the president expects full denuclearization and the sanctions will remain in force until verification is obtained.  That’s the bone of contention – while the U.S. will not ease the sanctions until full denuclearization is verified, North Korea wants gradual easing of sanctions along the way. They consider taking an approach of several steps an exercise in confidence-building.

Instead, Pompeo used the ASEAN conference to hold meetings with leaders in two dozen countries, cultivating support for continued pressure on North Korea to end their nuclear weapons program. While North Korea would like to see a gradual easing up on sanctions, those very sanctions are said to be credited with Kim Jong-un’s interest in working with President Trump and for the thawing of North Korea’s relationship with South Korea. To date, there is little to show for Trump’s olive branch approach steadied with a firm demand for results. Time will tell. In the meantime, reports of sanctions violations in terms of Korean officials using bank accounts in many other countries and accounts being put in the names of their family members and other officials continue.

The results of the ASEAN conference and Pompeo’s participation are reportedly better than those of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s appearance just last year. The mood of the communique signed by the diplomats is hopeful, yet anchored with a realistic skepticism.

ASEAN foreign ministers, along with counterparts from China, Japan and South Korea, urged the U.S. and North Korea “as well as concerned parties to continue working towards the realization of lasting peace and stability on a denuclearized Korean Peninsula,” according to a draft communique they were to issue after their meetings Saturday, which was seen by The Associated Press.

In the communique, they would “note” — often a diplomatic subtlety for a reminder — the “stated commitment” of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s formal name, “to complete denuclearization and its pledge to refrain from further nuclear and missile tests during this period.”

David Strom 7:01 PM on September 24, 2022