As Mike Pompeo heads to North Korea, US State Department denies softening stance on nuclear disarmament

Pompeo arrives to board his plane to travel to Anchorage, Alaska, on his way to Pyongyang.
Pompeo arrives to board his plane to travel to Anchorage, Alaska, on his way to Pyongyang.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The State Department on Thursday (July 5) denied that the United States had softened its approach towards North Korean denuclearisation, as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heads to Pyongyang hoping to agree a roadmap for its nuclear disarmament.

"Nothing could be further from the truth. Our policy towards North Korea has not changed," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters on the way to Pyongyang.

"We are committed to a denuclearised North Korea and Secretary Pompeo looks forward to continuing his consultations with North Korean leaders to follow up on the commitments made at the Singapore summit," she added.

President Donald Trump told reporters on Thursday he got along “very well” with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their June 12 summit.

“I really believe that he sees a different future for North Korea. I hope that’s true. If that’s not true we’ll go back to the other way,” Trump said aboard Air Force One as he flew to Montana.

Pompeo will spend a day and a half in North Korea on Friday and Saturday on his third trip to Pyongyang, and his first since an unprecedented summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June.

It will also be Pompeo's first overnight stop in Pyongyang, with which the United States had remained technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice not a peace treaty.

At the Singapore summit, Kim made a broad commitment to "work towards denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula", but has made no mention of how or when Pyongyang might give up a nuclear weapons programme that threatens the United States and its allies.

Ahead of the Singapore summit, Pompeo said Trump would reject anything short of "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation."

But following talks on Sunday between US envoy Sung Kim and North Korean counterparts, this "CVID" language appears to have disappeared from the State Department lexicon.

It says pressure will remain until North Korea denuclearises, but in statements this week, has redefined the US goal as "the final, fully verified denuclearisation of (North Korea) as agreed to by Chairman Kim."

Some US officials and experts have said the change in language amounted to a softening in the US approach.

After his departure from Washington on Thursday, Pompeo tweeted a photograph of himself boarding his plane and said: "Looking forward to continuing our work toward the final, fully verified denuclearisation of #DPRK, as agreed to by Chairman Kim. Good to have press along for the trip."