Update: After North Korean Criticism, Pompeo Says, ‘I’m Still in Charge of the Team’

By Patrick Goodenough | April 19, 2019 | 4:34am EDT
Mike Pompeo, then CIA director, meets Kim Jong Un for the first time in Pyongyang over the Easter weekend last year. (Photo by The White House via Getty Images)

(Update: At Friday’s press availability, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in response to questions about the North Korean criticism: “I’m still in charge of the team. President Trump’s obviously in charge of the overall effort, but it will be my team and Special Representative [Stephen] Biegun will continue to lead the U.S. efforts to achieve what Chairman Kim committed to do back in June of last year, which was to denuclearize.”

“As I’ve said before, he’s made that commitment to President Trump multiple times. He’s made it to me personally half a dozen times, and I’m convinced we still have a real opportunity to achieve that outcome, and our diplomatic team will continue to remain in the lead.”)

(CNSNews.com) –  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will have the opportunity Friday to respond to North Korea’s demand that he be removed from bilateral negotiations, when he and acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan hold a joint press availability with their Japanese counterparts.

The drive to shut down North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs will be a key focus in their security talks with Taro Kono and Takeshi Iwaya at the State Department.

The foreign ministry in Pyongyang on Thursday called on President Trump to remove Pompeo as chief negotiator in the U.S.-North Korea talks, accusing him of undermining the diplomacy with his remarks about Kim Jong Un.

Specifically Kwon Jong Gun, who heads the ministry’s department dealing with the United States, said Pompeo had mischaracterized a key point Kim made in a recent speech to his Supreme People’s Assembly, and had also used intemperate language in reference to Kim.

In the speech, the Stalinist dictator said he was in no hurry for a third summit with Trump, but would give the U.S. until the end of the year to make a “bold decision” that shows a willingness to exchange its current approach for a new one, if another summit is to be held.

During a visit to Texas on Monday, Pompeo was asked about the comment. In his response he noted that Kim had told him personally numerous times that he is prepared to denuclearize.

“He said he wanted it done by the end of the year,” Pompeo said. “I’d love to see that done sooner.”

Kwon Jong Gun said in a statement released through the official KCNA news agency that Pompeo was “talking nonsense.”

“Everyone has a clear interpretation of his [Kim’s] speech which says that the U.S. should change its way of calculation and come up with responsive measures before the end of this year,” Kwon said.

“Only Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of the State, is talking nonsense, that its meaning is to finish the working-level negotiation between the DPRK and the U.S. by the end of the year.”

“[The] Hanoi summit gives us a lesson that whenever Pompeo pokes his nose in, the talks go wrong without any results even from the point close to success,” Kwon said, adding that he worries that if Pompeo is involved in the talks again they will become “entangled.”

So, in the event more talks are held, he said, the U.S. side should be led not by Pompeo but by someone “who is more careful and mature in communicating with us.”

Pompeo has visited Pyongyang four times – once as CIA director, then as secretary of state on a mission to bring home three Americans imprisoned by the regime, and on two more nuclear talks-related trips last year, once immediately after the first summit in Singapore, and then again in October.

He also took part in the second Trump-Kim summit, in Hanoi last February.

Testifying before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on April 9, Pompeo was asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) whether his description of Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro as a “tyrant” was a term also applicable to Kim Jong Un. “Sure,” he replied. “I’m sure I’ve said that.”

In his KCNA statement, Kwon referred to that remark too.

He noted that Pompeo had been “granted audiences” with Kim several times, when denuclearization was discussed.

“However, after sitting the other way round, he spouted reckless remarks hurting the dignity of our supreme leadership at Congress hearings last week, to unveil his mean character by himself, thus stunning the reasonable people.”
 

See earlier story:
Pompeo Still Believes North Koreans ‘Would Love to See’ Kim Jong-un 'Go’ (Apr. 29, 2018)

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