South Korea’s Moon meets Pompeo, says world has escaped nuclear weapons threat

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean President Moon Jae-In said on Thursday the world had escaped the threat of war after this week’s Singapore summit, echoing U.S. President Donald Trump’s upbeat assessment of his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attends a bilateral meeting with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea June 14, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-ji/Pool

Trump and Kim issued a joint statement after their historic meeting that reaffirmed the North’s commitment to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”, an end to joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises and gave U.S. guarantees of security to North Korea.

“There have been many analyses on the outcome of the summit but I think what’s most important was that the people of the world, including those in the United States, Japan and Koreans, have all been able to escape the threat of war, nuclear weapons and missiles,” Moon told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ahead of a meeting between the two in Seoul.

The summit statement provided no details on when Pyongyang would give up its nuclear weapons program or how the dismantling might be verified.

Skeptics of how much the meeting achieved pointed to the North Korean leadership’s long-held view that nuclear weapons are a bulwark against what it fears are U.S. plans to overthrow it and unite the Korean peninsula.

“I am confident that we took a very good, significant step in Singapore,” Pompeo told Moon on Thursday ahead of a trilateral meeting including Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono.

Pompeo insisted after the meeting that Pyongyang was committed to giving up its nuclear arsenal but said it would “be a process, not an easy one”.

Kim Jong Un understood getting rid of his nuclear arsenal needed to be done quickly and there would only be relief from stringent U.N. sanctions on North Korea after its “complete denuclearization”, Pompeo said.

“EVERYBODY MUCH SAFER”

The United States has long insisted on complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization by North Korea but, in the summit statement, North Korea committed only to the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”, phrasing it has used in the past.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looks on as he attends a bilateral meeting with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea June 14, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-ji/Pool

Pompeo said a day earlier he would like to accomplish major nuclear disarmament in North Korea within Trump’s current term.

“Absolutely … you used the term major, major disarmament, something like that? We’re hopeful that we can achieve that in the 2-1/2 years,” he said.

Pompeo, who is charged by Trump with leading follow-on negotiations, bristled at a question about why the words “verifiable” and “irreversible” were not used in the summit joint statement in the context of denuclearization.

“It’s in the statement. You’re just wrong about that … Because complete encompasses verifiable and irreversible. I suppose you could argue semantics, but let me assure you that it’s in the document,” Pompeo said on Wednesday.

Trump returned to the United States on Wednesday and took to Twitter to hail the meeting, the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, as a major win for American security.

“Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office,” Trump tweeted. “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!”

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Democratic critics in the United States said the agreement was short on detail and the Republican president had made too many concessions to Kim, whose country is under U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and weapons programs and is widely condemned for human rights abuses.

MAINTAIN THE READINESS

Tokyo has reacted with concern at Trump’s plans to cancel military exercises with South Korea, saying such drills are vital for East Asian security.

Two North Korean missiles flew over Japan last year as Pyongyang made rapid advances in its program to develop a missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland with a nuclear warhead.

Tokyo is working on arranging a meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Kim Jong Un, with one possibility including the premier’s visit to Pyongyang around August, the Yomiuri newspaper reported.

A government source familiar with the matter told Reuters that Japanese officials planned to discuss the summit meeting with North Korean officials at an international conference on Northeast Asian security to be held in Mongolia on Thursday and Friday.

Despite Trump and Moon’s assertions about the North Korean nuclear threat being over, a senior U.S. official responsible for studying the North Korean military said the U.S. intelligence assessment of the nuclear and other military threat posed by North Korea to U.S. and allied forces in Asia and the northwest Pacific remained unchanged.

U.S. officials said it was unclear what types of training involving U.S. and South Korean troops might cross into Trump’s now forbidden zone of “war games”. But big, joint U.S.-South Korean exercises appeared off-limits under the new guidance.

“Make no mistake, we are going to maintain the readiness of our forces in South Korea,” said one U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official acknowledged, however, it was still not certain how that was going to happen.

The United States maintains about 28,500 soldiers in South Korea, which remains in a technical state of war with the North after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Christine Kim in SEOUL; Additional by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL, Yoshifumi Takemoto and Chang-Ran Kim in TOKYO and Phil Stewart in WASHINGTON; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Paul Tait

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