A letter from North Korean officials was delivered to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday resulting in Pompeo’s scheduled trip to North Korea to be cancelled just hours before he was to leave. Sources tell CNN that the letter warned the talks on denuclearization are at “stake and may fall apart.”
Three sources with direct knowledge of the North Korean position on denuclearization said the letter stated that Kim’s regime felt that the process couldn’t move forward because “the US is still not ready to meet (North Korean) expectations in terms of taking a step forward to sign a peace treaty.”CNN
Replacing the armistice with a peace treaty would require the approval of Congress and is a move that US officials have been reluctant to make. If no compromise is reached, North Korea could resume nuclear activities, according to CNN’s sources.
The Washington Post first reported the existence of the letter from Pompeo’s North Korean counterpart, Kim Yong Chol, a top North Korean official and the former head of North Korea’s spy agency, and suggested that the “secret” missive was delivered to the secretary of state through North Korea’s UN mission. Pompeo shared the letter with President Trump, who subsequently announced that the secretary of state’s trip was cancelled via Twitter.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told CNN that Pompeo was in the room Friday afternoon when Trump tweeted he was cancelling Pompeo’s trip because Trump felt “we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”Washington Post
In addition to introducing his new special envoy, Stephen Biegun, to North Korean officials, Pompeo’s fourth trip to Pyongyang was intended reverse the increasingly negative trend of interactions with the North Koreana. Pompeo aimed to work towards the US aim of securing a declaration of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs from Kim Jong Un and North Korea’s aim for the US to legally declare the Korean War over.
According to the Post, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and National Security Adviser are opposed to a declaration of the end of the Korean War at this time, believing that North Korea needs to declare its nuclear assets first. They further believe that US concessions should be contingent on any declarations from Kim Hong Un being verified first.
Mattis contends that a peace treaty declaration must be approached carefully, lest military operations on the Korean peninsula be put in jeopardy and Bolton believes concessions would be seen as a weakness by the Kim regime.
There are competing assessments by US agencies of exactly what the nuclear situation is in North Korea and the extent of backsliding is unknown. President Trump implored Kim Jong Un to take diplomatic steps and avoid backsliding in a recent letter.
The Post reports no one in the Trump Administration knows how bad the situation is on the ground in North Korea but earlier this month the International Atomic Energy Agency published a report expressing grave concerns over North Korea’s continued development of it’s nuclear capabilities and it’s increasingly belligerent statements. Trump administration officials cannot come to a consensus over how bad the situation is or what to do about it.
“It’s now a process designed to measure not how much progress we’re making, but how much damage is being done,” the senior administration official said.Washington Post
Administration officials are increasingly concerned with South Korean Moon administration’s apparent desire to forge ahead without the support of the US and the low probability of successful talks if Kim has not actually decided to commit to denuclearization as it appears he has not. Carrying on with diplomatic efforts seems to be the best option, all things considered, but it is a path fraught with numerous difficulties, as Pompeo has few options with which to persuade Kim to make concessions and taking a hard line could derail negotiations.
“Pompeo is stuck,” said one senior administration official who was not authorized to speak. “He’s a prisoner of championing a policy that’s based on what the president would love to see happen, but not based on reality and the facts on the ground.”Washington Post