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Pompeo sees North Korean denuclearization in Trump's first term

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) walks with US General Vincent K. Brooks (L), commander of United States Forces Korea, upon his arrival at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek on June 13, 2018.

[WASHINGTON] Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he expects North Korea to take the major steps toward nuclear disarmament during President Donald Trump's first term, as the top American diplomat sought to quell criticism that North Korea didn't make any major commitments at the summit in Singapore.

"We're hopeful that we can achieve that in, what was it, the next two and half years," Mr Pompeo told reporters in Seoul on Wednesday when asked how soon the US wanted to see North Korea move to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. "We're hopeful we can get it done. There's a lot of work left to do."

Mr Pompeo arrived in Seoul on Wednesday evening and will meet Thursday with senior South Korean and Japanese leaders to discuss the 1 1/2-page document that Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed on June 12. Mr Trump was criticized because the statement spelled out no specific commitments from Kim's regime aside from working toward the "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," a promise North Korea has repeatedly made and broken since the 1990s.

For weeks, Mr Pompeo and other officials have insisted North Korea must agree to "complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization" before economic sanctions can be lifted. Mr Pompeo told reporters that the language used in the document encompassed those demands, even though they weren't spelled out.

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"I suppose we could argue semantics but let me assure you it's in the document," Mr Pompeo said. "I am confident that they understand what we're prepared to do, the handful of things that we're likely not prepared to do." He added, "I am equally confident that they understand there will be in-depth verification."

Bridling at a question from a reporter who asked why the summit document didn't mention the complete and verifiable denuclearization that the Trump administration has demanded, Mr Pompeo said, "I find that question insulting and ridiculous and frankly ludicrous. I just have to be honest with you, it's a game, it's a game, and one ought not play games with serious matters like this."

Even as Mr Pompeo staunchly defended the summit results, he was less exuberant than Mr Trump, who tweeted on his return to the U.S. on Monday morning: "Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea."

While saying Mr Trump is "in the lead," Mr Pompeo said, "I will be the person driving this process forward." He predicted he will have his next conversation with the North Koreans "fairly quickly after we return to our home countries" and within "the next week or so."

Pompeo sought to counter concerns that North Korea and the US came away from the talks with fundamentally different interpretations. Earlier Wednesday, North Korea's state KCNA news agency said denuclearization would be a "step by step process" with "simultaneous action," a stance that appeared to contradict the U.S. refusal to offer sanctions relief before North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons.

"I'm going to leave the content of our discussions between the two parties, but one should heavily discount some things that are written in other places," Mr Pompeo said.

BLOOMBERG

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