Pompeo returns to Pyongyang lacking leverage for nuke deal


Secretary of State Michael Pompeo arrived on Saturday in Japan on a trip that will take him to North Korea, as US disarmament demands are increasingly undermined by calls for sanctions relief and President Donald Trump’s eagerness for a second summit with Kim Jong-un. Pompeo will spend less than a day on the ground in Pyongyang on Sunday meeting with Kim and seeking to flesh out US expectations for his regime to denuclearise. But his hosts will be looking for US flexibility on North Korean demands to improve ties and even reach a formal end to the
Korean War.
The top US diplomat, who has struggled to balance optimism about North Korea’s bright future with talk that Kim hasn’t done enough to merit sanctions relief, finds himself increasingly isolated, not only from rivals like Russia and China, but also from South Korea —and from his own boss.
“Pompeo goes over there with very little leverage,” said Vipin Narang, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The wind has gone out of ‘maximum pressure.’”
On this trip, Trump has tasked Pompeo with arranging a second summit with Kim, something that could provide the US president with another peacemaking moment weeks before congressional elections.
En route to Japan, Pompeo told a reporter on his plane that his objective would be to “make sure that we understand what each side is truly trying to achieve,” a comment that signaled the two countries were still a long way off from deta-iled negotiations on verified disarmament.
Second Summit
Pompeo said he hopes to “develop options for both location and timing” for a second summit between the two leaders—but added that even that may not be settled when he leaves Pyongyang on Sunday afternoon.
While the US insists sanctions on North Korea remain fully in place, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told reporters in Seoul that her government might seek exemptions from the international sanctions regime.
“Virtually every significant South Korean company has investment plans for North Korea, and they all want to get on with it yesterday rather than tomorrow,” said Kenneth Courtis, chairman of Starfort Investment Holdings, an investment, private equity and commodity group, and a former Asia vice chairman of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

‘Beautiful Letters’
They’re not the only ones. The US says China and Russia are undermining sanctions, a crucial development given their roles as the country’s chief economic lifelines.And then there is the US president. As he did with his previous secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, Trump has undercut Pompeo’s efforts to maintain a united stance within the administration and among allies in the face of decades of North Korean intransigence. At a rally last week in West Virginia, Trump extolled the “beautiful letters” he got from the North Korean leader, saying the two men “ fell in love.”
More crucially, Trump told reporters in New York last week that he didn’t need to commit to a firm timeline for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
“We’re not playing the time game,” Trump said on September 26 on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

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