Pompeo’s Third Trip to Pyongyang Comes a Year After July 4 ICBM Launch

Patrick Goodenough | July 3, 2018 | 4:27am EDT
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A photo posted on an official regime propaganda website shows Kim Jong-un using binoculars to observe a Hwasong-14 ICBM launch on July 4, 2017. (Screengrab: Uriminzokkiri)

(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week makes what is becoming for him a familiar trip to Pyongyang, one year since North Korea marked July 4 with its first-ever test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile theoretically able to reach parts of the U.S. mainland.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Monday he would “meet with the North Korean leader and his team” and the State Department said the secretary would “continue consultations and implement the forward progress” made by President Trump and Kim Jong Un at their summit in Singapore on June 12.

Pompeo – then still CIA director – traveled secretly to the North Korean capital over the Easter weekend to lay the groundwork for the proposed summit, and then again as secretary of state in May to secure the release of three Americans detained by the regime.

His third trip to Pyongyang on Thursday, for talks on implementing an agreement outlined by Trump and Kim in Singapore, underscores how much has changed on the peninsula since the first ICBM test-firing 12 months ago.

The timing of the July 4 launch was not coincidental. Pyongyang had carried out previous such missile provocations on or around America’s Independence Day, both during the Bush administration in 2006 and in the first year of the Obama administration, in 2009.

It similarly chose the eve of President Obama’s State of the Union address in 2013 to carry out an underground nuclear test, its third after previous ones in 2006 and 2009.

In a photo posted on a regime propaganda website, Kim Jong-un inspects the Hwasong-15 intercontinential ballistic missile. The regime said it launched one on November 29, 2017. (Photo: Uriminzokkiri)

Last year’s July 4 launch of a Hwasong-14 ICBM, was followed by another later that same month. While the first traveled for 39 minutes and reached an altitude of around 2,800 km, the one launched on July 28 flew for 47 minutes, climbing to an altitude of about 3,700 km.

September brought the regime’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test yet, and then on November 29 came the launch of a Hwasong-15 ICBM, which North Korea claimed brought the entire continental U.S. within range.

Judging from the distance the projectile had traveled on a lofted trajectory – some 4,500 km in 53 minutes – some experts agreed with that assessment, although stressing that its actual reach would be dependent on payload weight as well.

The missile tested in late November was the 20th to be launched during the course of 2017.

Since then, however, there have been no further ballistic missile launches, no more nuclear tests, and a noticeable cooling of threatening rhetoric, all contributing to a significant lowering of tensions in the region.

This year brought signs of rapprochement between Pyongyang and Seoul against the backdrop of the Winter Olympics hosted by South Korea, a North-South summit along the DMZ, and then last month’s historic Trump-Kim encounter.

Trump has come under fire for saying in a post-summit interview that he trusts Kim, and for claiming in a tweet on his return to the U.S. that “there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

But the administration insists that progress is being made.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders during a daily press briefing Monday noted the absence of missile launches and nuclear tests, and pointed to talks in the DMZ on Sunday between North Korean officials and U.S. envoy Sung Kim.

The former U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, now ambassador to the Philippines, is playing a leading role in the direct diplomacy with the regime.

Sanders declined to comment on news reports citing intelligence sources as saying that the North Koreans are working to enhance their nuclear capabilities and do not intend to reveal all of their facilities or surrender all weapons.

Asked whether Trump still trusts Kim, Sanders said, “we see progress and momentum in the process, and we’ve had good conversations as recently as yesterday. And we’re going to continue those conversations later this week, and push forward.”

On Sunday, National Security Advisor John Bolton said that Pompeo will discuss with the North Koreans a program devised by U.S. experts which would allow for the dismantling of the regime’s nuclear, chemical, biological and ballistic missile programs “within a year.”

Bolton said that timetable was contingent on the regime’s cooperation and on its “full disclosure of all” its WMD and missile facilities.

Pompeo’s week-long trip will also take him to Tokyo, for consultations with Japanese and South Korean officials about the North Korean issue, then on to Hanoi, Abu Dhabi, and finally Brussels where he will accompany Trump at a July 10-12 NATO summit.

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