(CNSNews.com) – Undeterred by North Korea’s stinging criticism following his difficult meetings in Pyongyang, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Sunday used a visit to Vietnam to highlight the revolutionized relationship with a former foe and to reiterate that Kim Jong Un could guide his impoverished country to a similar future.
Addressing a business event at a hotel in Hanoi, Pompeo spoke of a war-ravaged and largely isolated communist nation, transformed into a thriving country with “the fastest-growing economy in all of Southeast Asia,” and with poverty levels slashed from above 60 percent of the population in the early 1990s to below ten percent today.
He attributed Vietnam’s “incredible success story” to the industriousness of its people and to leaders who “realized their country could reform, it could open up and build relationships, without threatening the country’s sovereignty, its independence, and its form of government.”
“One key to Vietnam’s enormous rise over the past few decades was a new engagement with the United States of America,” Pompeo said.
He noted pointedly that it began when the former enemies started to cooperate to repatriate the remains of American service personnel killed during the Vietnam War.
“This small but incredibly meaningful first step eventually helped lead to better ties and formal reestablishment of our relationship in 1995.”
The U.S. is similarly seeking North Korea’s assistance in accounting for Americans missing in action in the earlier conflict there – a commitment Kim Jong Un reaffirmed during his June 12 summit with President Trump in Singapore. Bilateral military talks have been scheduled in the DMZ next week to discuss the issue, Pompeo said after his visit to Pyongyang.
(According to the Pentagon’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), 7,699 American personnel missing since the Korean War ended in 1953 remain “unaccounted for.” The number of unaccounted for Vietnam War MIAs stands at 1,597.)
In his Hanoi remarks, the secretary of state underlined the U.S. and Vietnam’s “common interests, our mutual respect, our bold resolve, despite great difficulties, to overcome the past and look forward to the future.”
“I hope that the United States – that one day we can share the same relationship with North Korea,” he said. “We know it’s a real possibility because we see how Vietnam has traveled this remarkable path.”
Pompeo said there are still “challenges” in the U.S.-Vietnam relationship, but “the fact that we can have honest yet calm discussions when we disagree is an even greater confirmation of the relationship between our two nations.”
“Look at the consequences of American engagement on the leadership and people of Vietnam. Prosperity and security abound,” he said. “When the leaders in Hanoi go to bed at night, the notion of conflict with America is the last thing on their minds. Instead, they rest with a certainty that America has no interest in reopening the old wounds of the past. And in light of our red-hot trade relationship and growing security cooperation, nothing could be further from America’s self-interest than picking a fight with Vietnam.”
“In light of the once-unimaginable prosperity and partnership we have with Vietnam today, I have a message for Chairman Kim Jong Un: President Trump believes your country can replicate this path. It’s yours if you’ll seize the moment. The miracle could be yours; it can be your miracle in North Korea as well.”
Pompeo said the administration has made it clear what it needs North Korea to do “to set in motion this great chain of events.”
“The choice now lies with North Korea and its people.”
In Tokyo on Saturday, Pompeo faced tough questions about his just-completed visit to Pyongyang, after North Korea’s foreign ministry in a strong-worded statement accused the U.S. of presenting a “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization.”
Despite that, Pompeo stressed that the North Koreans know exactly what the U.S. expects “denuclearization” to entail – “from weapons systems to fissile material to the production facilities, enrichment facilities, across the range of weapons and missiles.”
“It’s a broad definition of denuclearization. The North Koreans understand that and have not challenged that.”
Pompeo dismissed the criticism directed at the administration, saying that if the requests made by the U.S. were “ganger-like” then “the world is a gangster, because there was a unanimous decision at the U.N. Security Council about what needs to be achieved.”
Going back more than a decade, the Security Council since 2006 has demanded that Pyongyang “abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner” and “abandon all other existing weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile program in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.”
Pompeo also emphasized, again, that sanctions against the regime will remain in place and be enforced “until denuclearization is complete.”
A timeline of US-Vietnam rapprochement
1988: During the Reagan administration, retired chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Gen. John Vessey makes breakthrough visit, securing agreement on MIA cooperation
1991: Under President George H.W. Bush, U.S. presents Hanoi with roadmap for phased normalization of ties
1993: President Clinton lays groundwork for resumption of IMF and World Bank lending to Vietnam
1994: Clinton lifts trade embargo
1995: Clinton announces normalization of relations; Secretary of State Warren Christopher visits, embassies are opened in Hanoi and Washington
2000: Clinton visits Vietnam
2005: U.S. Navy resumes port calls
2006: President G.W. Bush visits; awards Vietnam permanent normal trade relations
2008: U.S. and Vietnam launch “strategic dialogue” on security issues
2016: President Obama visits Vietnam; lifts three-decade-old arms embargo
2017: President Trump visits Vietnam
2018: USS Carl Vinson becomes first U.S. Navy aircraft carrier to visit Vietnam