US Softens Tone Ahead of Pompeo's North Korea Visit

Korean War

A gunner with the US 31st Regimental Combat Team during the Korean War Credit National Archives

During Pompeo's trip, North Korea could follow through on its earlier agreement to return the remains of US soldiers killed during the 1950-1953 Korean War, but it's unclear what denuclearization measures the country would agree to. The U.S. State Department furtively shifted its insistence on a complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID) to a finally, fully-verified denuclearization (FFVD) after the North bristled against the former approach.

One is a letter from U.S. President Donald Trump and the other an Elton John CD with his song "Rocket Man".

Pompeo is set to reach Pyongyang on Friday for further talks on denuclearization of the country.

But during diplomatic exchanges at a working level following the historic inter-Korean summit in April this year, North Korea told Japan that the Stockholm deal has "not been scrapped", the sources said.

"I expect that the DPRK is ready to do the same", he said, using an acronym for the North Korean regime, while at a refueling stop in Japan. "Kim mentioned that Trump referred to him as "rocket man" when tensions ran high last year" after a series of nuclear tests and missile launches by the North. "Trump then asked Kim if he knew the song and Kim said no".

Trump and Kim made the vague commitment at the June 12 summit, each signing an agreement that said North Korea would abandon its nuclear program.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One as he flew to Montana, Trump said: "I really believe that he sees a different future for the North Koreans". This is his third trip to North Korea.

Basketball diplomacy has something of a history in North Korea. In recent weeks, US officials have expressed displeasure in the senior North Korean official for what they view as his inability or unwillingness to negotiate with USA officials or act outside the scope of very limited orders from Kim Jong Un.

South Korea, Japan and the US military appear to have been caught off-guard by some of Trump's tweets and comments since the June 12 Singapore summit with Kim. Experts have warned that verifying and removing Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, a challenge that has bedeviled successive US administrations, could easily take 10 years even assuming full North Korean compliance, which is also not a given. These moves helped build budding ties with the United States, but many experts say North Korea must take much stronger steps to prove it's serious about denuclearization.

Go Myong-Hyun of the Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies said the United States may focus on demanding the dismantling of missiles, whose size makes them harder to hide than warheads and nuclear materials.

South Korean media have reported that Kim Yong Chol could be replaced in his chief negotiating capacity by the minister of foreign affairs, Ri Yong-ho - so observers will be looking closely at which North Korean officials get a seat at the negotiating table with Pompeo.

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