Mike Pompeo is projecting North Korea will complete a process of “rapid denuclearization” by January 2021 — but experts believe this timeline is “wishful thinking” and that the secretary of state is “playing Trump’s game of smoke and mirrors.”
Pompeo released a statement Wednesday congratulating Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae In on “the successful outcome of their summit meeting in Pyongyang” this week. At the summit Kim announced he’d agree to allow independent inspectors to verify the destruction of a missile test site at Tongchang-ri — a site the regime has been destroying since at least July.
Kim also agreed to destroy an unspecified facility at Yongbyon where it has a number of reactors, but only if the U.S. “take corresponding measures” as agreed in the declaration Trump signed with Kim at their June summit in Singapore.
These efforts are seen as a sign that Kim wanted to kickstart stalled negotiations with the U.S. and in response Pompeo said the White House was now “prepared to engage immediately in negotiations to transform U.S.-DPRK relations.”
Pompeo has invited North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho to a meeting in New York next week during the U.N. General Assembly.
“This will mark the beginning of negotiations to transform U.S.-DPRK relations through the process of rapid denuclearization of North Korea, to be completed by January 2021, as committed by Chairman Kim,” Pompeo said.
However, experts told VICE News that because of the lack of information about North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and the fact Kim has made similar commitments in the past, Pompeo’s prediction is “very unrealistic” and that the process would take a decade at least.
Here’s what the experts told VICE News about the prospect of achieving complete denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula by 2021:
Robert Kelly, an expert in international relations at Pusan National University in South Korea:
Very unrealistic. That [date] is intended for Trump as a talking point; that is not real. It will take much longer than that. A decade at least, and even that is really a general guess because we don’t even know yet how much stuff they have. They haven’t told us.”
Brian Klass, assistant professor of global politics at University College London:
Pompeo is playing Trump’s game of a smoke-and-mirrors solution to North Korea. Kim Jong Un has in several ways accelerated aspects of his nuclear program since Trump began his attempt to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
However, Trump’s efforts have only accomplished two goals so far: first, convincing Trump supporters that he is winning, and second, buying more time for Kim while partially legitimizing his regime.
The bottom line remains the same: It’s extremely unlikely that Kim is going to give up being a nuclear power without receiving security concessions that America and its allies could not live with. Pompeo’s proclamation is wishful thinking from an administration mired in scandal and dysfunction, as they hope to project a (false) image of victory.
Baohui Zhang, director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong:
I think Pompeo could be too optimistic about the roadmap. The reality is that nobody knows if Kim will destroy all of his nuclear capabilities. This includes not only freezing of nuclear facilities, thereby capping his future capabilities, but also the destruction of existing nuclear weapons stock. Kim may agree to freeze nuclear facilities if he has the right U.S. incentives. Will he surrender existing nuclear weapons, which are estimated to be between 20 and 60? Only time will tell.
John Hemmings, Asia Director at the Henry Jackson Society, a British foreign policy think tank:
There are going to be two factors in the coming denuclearisation process — the technical ability for North Korea to denuclearize verifiably in that time limit and the political process that is supposed to get us there. Even if the first is possible — and I am not sure we know enough technically to guarantee that is correct or not — it’s a mistake to think that the second factor will not cause us serious problems.
I think approaching any negotiation in terms of time limits has unclear merits. Sure, we push diplomats along a path toward a common goal in a certain amount of time, but say that time is not actually reasonable — by objective standards. Are we not simply setting ourselves for failure — for what looks like domestic drivers.
Colin Alexander, an expert in East Asian political communications from Nottingham Trent University:
If North Korea is to rapidly denuclearize within the timeframes that are being touted by Sec. Pompeo then the isolated state would be the first country in the nuclear age to undertake such a process. No other country has built and then destroyed a military nuclear capacity.
Cover: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference in the press briefing room at the State Department in Washington, Friday, Sept. 14, 2018, in Washington. Pompeo says his Obama-era predecessor John Kerry has been 'actively undermining' U.S. policy on Iran. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)