WASHINGTON — The United States has a plan that would lead to the dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs in a year, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser said, although U.S. intelligence reported signs that Pyongyang doesn’t intend to fully give up its arsenal.
John Bolton said top U.S. diplomat Mike Pompeo will be discussing that plan with North Korea in the near future. Bolton added that it would be to the North’s advantage to cooperate to see sanctions lifted quickly and aid from South Korea and Japan start to flow.
President Donald Trump declared Friday that North Korea still poses an “extraordinary threat” to the United States.
The State Department said the U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, Sung Kim, who led policy negotiations with North Korea before the summit, traveled to the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas on Sunday to resume talks on next steps on implementing the joint declaration Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed in Singapore. In that summit declaration, the North committed “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The short joint statement did not define how that would be achieved or say when the process would begin or how long it might take.
“Our goal remains the final, fully verified denuclearization of the DPRK, as agreed to by Chairman Kim in Singapore,” the department said Monday. DPRK stands for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Mattis said the U.S. commitment to South Korea includes keeping current U.S. force levels on the peninsula.
Bolton’s remarks Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” presented a very ambitious timeline for North Korea to fulfill that commitment. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters three weeks ago that the U.S. wants North Korea to take “major” nuclear disarmament steps within the next two years — before the end of Trump’s first term in January 2021.
Despite Trump’s rosy post-summit declaration that the North no longer poses a nuclear threat, Washington and Pyongyang have yet to negotiate the terms under which it would relinquish the weapons that it developed over decades to deter the U.S.
Doubts over North Korea’s intentions have deepened amid reports that it is continuing to produce fissile material for weapons.
The Washington Post on Saturday cited unnamed U.S. intelligence officials as concluding that North Korea does not intend to fully surrender its nuclear stockpile. Evidence collected since the June 12 summit in Singapore points to preparations to deceive the U.S. about the number of nuclear warheads in North Korea’s arsenal as well as the existence of undisclosed facilities used to make fissile material for nuclear bombs, according to the report.
It said the findings support a new, previously undisclosed Defense Intelligence Agency estimate that North Korea is unlikely to denuclearize. Some aspects of the new intelligence were reported on Friday by NBC News.
South Korea urged North Korea on Wednesday to present a plan with concrete steps toward denuclearization, raising the pressure on its leader Kim Jong Un as he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in a visit designed to convey the countries’ growing closeness.
A U.S. official told The Associated Press that the Post’s report was accurate and that the assessment reflected the consistent view across U.S. government agencies for the past several weeks. The official was not authorized to comment publicly on the matter and requested anonymity.
Bolton on Sunday declined to comment on intelligence matters.
He said the administration was well-aware of North Korea’s track record over the decades in dragging out negotiations with the U.S. to continue weapons development.
“We have developed a program. I’m sure that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be discussing this with the North Koreans in the near future about really how to dismantle all of their WMD and ballistic missile programs in a year,” Bolton said. “If they have the strategic decision already made to do that, and they’re cooperative, we can move very quickly,” he added.
He said the one-year program the U.S. is proposing would cover all the North’s chemical and biological weapons, nuclear programs and ballistic missiles.
Even if North Korea is willing to cooperate, dismantling its secretive weapons of mass destruction programs, believed to encompass dozens of sites, will be tough. Stanford University academics, including nuclear physicist Siegfried Hecker, a leading expert on the North’s nuclear program, have proposed a 10-year roadmap for that task; others say it could take less time.
Pompeo has already visited Pyongyang twice since April to meet with Kim — the first time when he was still director of the CIA — and there are discussions about a possible third trip to North Korea late next week but such a visit has not yet been confirmed.
Trump reiterated in an interview broadcast Sunday that he thinks Kim is serious about denuclearization.
“I made a deal with him. I shook hands with him. I really believe he means it,” the president said on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo.”
While Seoul and Washington welcomed Pyongyang’s declaration on Saturday to suspend further intercontinental ballistic missile tests and shut down its nuclear test site, the past is littered with failure.
Trump defended his decision to suspend “war games” with close ally South Korea — a significant concession to North Korea, which so far has suspended nuclear and missile tests and destroyed tunnels at its nuclear test site but not taken further concrete steps to denuclearize.
“Now we’re saving a lot of money,” Trump said of the cancellation of large-scale military drills that involve flights of U.S. bombers from the Pacific U.S. territory of Guam.
Pressure will now be on Pompeo to make progress in negotiations with North Korea to turn the summit declaration into concrete action. He spoke with the foreign ministers of China, Japan and South Korea in recent days about the situation with the North, according to the State Department, which has declined to comment on any upcoming travel.
Pompeo postponed plans to meet with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and their counterparts from India on July 6, citing unavoidable circumstances, which has fueled speculation he will make a third trip to Pyongyang.