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Pompeo Visits North Korea Amid Doubts Pyongyang Will Denuclearize


A U.S. official compares North Korea's denuclearization to going on a diet. To make progress, the official says, you first have to climb on a scale. In other words, North Korea must first clarify exactly what its nuclear program has so the U.S. can track its removal later. North Korea agreed to do none of that in the vague statement approved after its president met President Trump last month. Now, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is following up, so let's turn to Sue Mi Terry, a Korea analyst for the CIA once upon a time. She also worked for the National Security Council under both the Bush and Obama administrations. Good morning.

SUE MI TERRY: Good morning. How are you?

INSKEEP: I'm doing OK, thanks. So before Pompeo headed to North Korea, there was a lot of news reporting about satellite images showing that North Korea isn't shrinking its nuclear program. It's actually expanding a ballistic missile facility and some other nuclear sites. Is this a bad sign?

TERRY: It's a very bad sign. But frankly, I'm not surprised at all. And I don't think any Korea watcher is truly surprised. But it's still a very bad sign. And what was really explosive about that report was the part that North Korea's intent to continually deceive U.S. officials in even future negotiations. So obviously, that's not a good sign, even though it's not surprising.

INSKEEP: But Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state who's been to North Korea twice, is now back again. Reading this from the outside, what does it appear he's trying to accomplish?

TERRY: Well, we do have to translate it from the very aspirational, vague statement that came out of Singapore to something substantive. As you mentioned, Singapore declaration was just aspirational. There was nothing there. The only sentence that really came out about denuclearization was about North Korea continuing to work towards denuclearization. I mean, what does that mean?

So he needs to get something substantive out of North Korea because right now, we don't have anything, particularly when the U.S. did give away things, such as canceling U.S.-South Korea joint exercises. So he will - Secretary Pompeo will press North Korea for something. I think what he should press for is a complete declaration of its nuclear and missile program, and, you know, even covert facilities, you know. But we're probably not going to get that.

INSKEEP: Oh, a complete declaration? That's the stepping on the scale, right?

TERRY: Yes. I mean, first of all, we need to get a declaration of what they have. And now that - with that intelligence assessment report coming out - that came out about covert facilities, this declaration should include some of these covert facilities. But I doubt that he's going to get that, so I think at minimum, he will press for it. And he will have to leave Pyongyang with some sort of a timetable or some sort of a rough roadmap to where - how we're going to proceed from this point on because right now, again, we have nothing from North Korea.

INSKEEP: OK. So there's another thing the United States can do is hand the North Koreans a plan and say, this is what we need from you. This is how you need to denuclearize once you've declared what you have. And the national security adviser John Bolton has alluded to that in some of his public statements, saying that Secretary of State Pompeo can discuss a one-year plan to dismantle North Korea's nuclear arsenal. That sounds great. But is that realistic? Could this be done in one year?

TERRY: No, it cannot be done in one year. It's very, very unrealistic plan. And if we are talking about still CVID - complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear program, or as Secretary Pompeo now changed it to final, fully-verified denuclearization - that verification takes years, decades. There was a Stanford report talking about how verification could take up to 15 years. Now, that's very unrealistic. That said, we do have to now get some sort of a plan in order. And the first step is for North Korea to give us a declaration of what they have, both overt and covert.

INSKEEP: Very, very briefly now, of course, the United States has begun its trade war with China overnight. The U.S. imposed tariffs for real. China has retaliated. And yet, China is a country the U.S. is depending on to influence North Korea. Do you see it as possible that the U.S. could collaborate with China while fighting a trade war?

TERRY: I think it's very difficult. We've already seen Xi Jinping in China relaxing sanctions - implementation of sanctions on North Korea. Yeah, very difficult.

INSKEEP: OK. Sue Mi Terry, thank you very much - really appreciate it.

TERRY: Thanks for having me on.

INSKEEP: She is a Korea analyst now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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