TOKYO — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived Saturday in Tokyo, where he is expected to meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before heading to Pyongyang to continue talks over North Korea’s nuclear and missile program.
Pompeo is expected to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, as he tries to set the stage for another summit between Kim and President Trump.
“I’m optimistic that we’ll come away from that with better understandings, deeper progress, and a plan forward, not only for the summit between the two leaders but for us to continue the efforts to build out a pathway for denuclearization,” Pompeo told reporters on Wednesday.
Speaking in the plane on his way to a refueling stop in Alaska, Pompeo said his mission was “to make sure that we understand what each side is truly trying to achieve” and how “each side is seeking to approach that, and how we can deliver against the commitments that were made.”
“Each side has to develop sufficient trust so they can take the actions necessary to get to the end,” he said, adding he was also trying to set up the next Trump-Kim summit.
“So we hope to, at least — I doubt we will get it nailed — but begin to develop options for both location and timing for when Chairman Kim will meet with the president again,” he said. “Maybe we will get further than that.”
After a summit between the leaders of the two Koreas last month, Kim said he was prepared to permanently dismantle his country’s main nuclear site at Yongbyon, but only if the United States took “corresponding steps” to build trust.
At the time, it appeared that meant a declaration to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, as a signal that hostilities between the two countries were over. But during the past few days, Pyongyang appears to have increased its demands, signaling that it may also want an easing of sanctions before moving forward.
Pompeo has said that sanctions will be lifted only after North Korea fully and verifiably dismantles its nuclear weapons program. Speaking on the plane, he declined to be drawn into specifics of the negotiations.
Washington is believed to have asked North Korea to supply a list of its nuclear and missile facilities as a next step, but South Korea’s government says the North is not prepared to meet this demand.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told The Washington Post this week that Seoul believed that such a list could spark a long argument between Pyongyang and Washington over verification, which would not be conducive for building trust.
Instead, she said, Seoul favors a “different approach,” where each side takes “chunks of action” to build trust, such as the dismantling of Yongbyon in return for U.S. steps such as an end-of-war declaration.
But North Korea has indicated this week that it may also demand an easing of sanctions.
In an editorial on Thursday, Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Workers’ Party of Korea, argued that the United States should not focus on maintaining sanctions but instead on building confidence between the two nations “with a sincere attitude.”
“The U.S. invented the sanctions against the DPRK under unreasonable pretexts and tries to keep them at a time when the pretexts are removed,” it wrote, accusing Washington of “brigandish and frivolous” misbehavior. North Korea refers to itself as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Washington and Pyongyang, it wrote, are “kindling a glimmer” of hope for the improvement of bilateral ties. “It is high time that each side makes efforts towards trust-building.”
In Tokyo, Pompeo is also expected to meet Foreign Minister Taro Kono. He will aim to reassure the government that Washington is not about to cut a deal with Pyongyang that ignores Japan’s concerns, including over North Korea’s shorter-range missiles.
Pompeo will also visit Seoul and Beijing after Pyongyang.