US to take firm line ahead of N Korea talks, says CIA chief

Isolated state must agree to preconditions prior to negotiations, asserts Mike Pompeo

Talks between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump, should they take place, are expected to “play out over time”. Photographs: Getty Images

Talks between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump, should they take place, are expected to “play out over time”. Photographs: Getty Images

 

The US will make no concessions to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in discussions leading to potential talks between the reclusive leader and US president Donald Trump, and during any subsequent negotiations, said CIA director Mike Pompeo.

Kim, on the other hand, must agree to several conditions including ceasing nuclear and missile testing, continuing to allow US-South Korean military exercises and leaving denuclearisation “on the table,” said Mr Pompeo on television show Fox News Sunday. “Never before have we had the North Koreans in a position where their economy was at such risk, and where their leadership was under such pressure that they would begin conversations on the terms that Kim Jong Un has conceded to,” said Mr Pompeo.

The discussions with North Korea, should they occur, “will play out over time”, he added.

Mr Trump may be meeting with Mr Kim in the coming month, in the hopes of winding down the Asian nation’s nuclear weapons programme, South Korean officials announced on Thursday at the White House.

It would be an unprecedented meeting by a US president that upends decades of American foreign policy. Some experts have said it could become a stalling tactic by Mr Kim to avoid additional economic sanctions while continuing to develop weaponry. Asked on ABC’s This week TV programme whether the meeting may not happen, deputy press secretary Raj Shah replied: “There’s the possibility. If it does, it’s the North Koreans’ fault. They have not lived up to the promises that they made.”

Holding the meeting in North Korean capital Pyongyang is unlikely, but nothing has been ruled out for a location, he said. He added that sanctions on North Korea will continue and that there is no question they are having an impact on the isolated state’s economy, bringing Mr Kim to the negotiating table.

Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin told NBC’s Meet the Press that a situation prevails where the president is using diplomacy but “we’re not removing the maximum pressure campaign”. Mr Mnuchin added that the president is going to sit down and see if he can cut a deal.

The question is whether Mr Trump is equipped to succeed with a complex and volatile situation that requires seasoned diplomats, said Ben Rhodes, a former deputy national security adviser for president Barack Obama. “This is not a real estate deal or a reality show,” said Mr Rhodes on ABC. Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts also raised concerns about Mr Kim playing Mr Trump because of complicated negotiations at a time when the State Department is “decimated” by departures of key staff and with no US ambassador to South Korea in place.

“When the president succeeds in negotiations like this, the United States succeeds,” said Ms Warren on CNN’s State of the Union. “But I am very worried that he’s going to go into these negotiations and be taken advantage of.”

CIA director Mike Pompeo said the agency knows Kim Jong Un “is rational in the sense that he responds to stimulus”.
CIA director Mike Pompeo said the agency knows Kim Jong Un “is rational in the sense that he responds to stimulus”.

Mr Pompeo was drawn on Mr Kim in January, saying the leader would not stop with one successful arms test and that the country is within months of developing a nuclear missile capable of reaching the US. North Korea tested a missile in November that analysts say put US soil in range, following other weaponry tests over the years. It’s still the CIA’s assessment that North Korea is “a few months” away from being able to reach the US with a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile, said Mr Pompeo on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday.

Vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Paul Selva told reporters on January 30th that while the regime has “made some strides” it has not yet demonstrated a capacity for a strike with a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile. “It’s possible he has them and so we have to place the bet that he might have them, but he hasn’t demonstrated them,” said Gen Selva.

Prior to announcing the meeting, Mr Trump and Mr Kim have traded insults and threats on the global stage, with Mr Trump calling the North Korean “short and fat” and a “mad man.” While Mr Kim responded by calling the president a “mentally deranged US dotard”.

Bombast

Mr Trump also threatened to use military force if necessary to stop North Korea’s nuclear threat, saying the country would be met with “fire and fury”. Mr Pompeo on Sunday repeated his agency’s conclusion about Mr Kim’s personality. In spite of the bombast, he said, “we know a fair amount about him. We know that he is rational in the sense that he responds to stimulus. We’ve seen this.”

Mr Trump vouched for Mr Kim at the annual Gridiron Dinner in Washington on March 3rd, saying in a satirical speech to members of the media that, “I won’t rule out direct talks with Kim Jong Un. I just won’t. As far as the risk of dealing with a mad man is concerned, that’s his problem, not mine.”

Still, Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said Mr Kim has shown he is mostly interested in preserving his own regime. “We’ve seen he’s willing to do nearly anything to do that,” said Mr Dempsey said on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS on Sunday. “And this is why this negotiation will be so challenging.” A key question is whether any US-North Korean talks include reducing the conventional military threat that Mr Kim poses to South Korea as well as denuclearisation, with its “thousands of artillery pieces and rockets arrayed along the Demilitarized Zone,” said Mr Dempsey.

“Our negotiators will have to decide, how compartmentalized do we want it to be?” added Mr Dempsey. “Are we trying to bring stability to the Korean peninsula, which takes you on one path, or are we trying, simply, to denuclearise?” he said. “That will be an important decision.” – Bloomberg