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Pompeo Meets Allies In South Korea


What did President Trump really accomplish in a summit with North Korea's leader? And here's a related question. What does the administration think they achieved? That question comes up after the president returned from the summit and wrote, there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.

As Trump headed home, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to South Korea, where people live daily with North Korea's continuing nuclear threat. NPR's Elise Hu is also back from the summit at her base in Seoul. Hey there, Elise.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Hey there.

INSKEEP: OK, the president's claim created the impression that he thinks the problem is solved. Is Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, saying that?

HU: No, he's not saying that at all. In fact, he has been saying that the summit was just the beginning of a long process of sort of making the relationship less hostile, and then working toward denuclearization from there.

In Seoul, he emphasized that there would be no relaxing of economic sanctions on North Korea unless North Korea actually took steps to denuclearize that the U.S. wanted to see. And Pompeo said this because he was challenged about the president hyping that idea that the North Korean threat was no longer.


MIKE POMPEO: When he talked about the reduction in threat that followed from that, it was with eyes wide open. He said this in his press conference. It could be the case that our effort will not work. But we're determined to set the conditions.

INSKEEP: Oh, so he's referencing other statements the president has made where he makes it clear that there - seems to make it clear that he understands this is just the beginning of a very long process.

HU: That's true. But the U.S. is already scrambling to suspend its joint military exercises with South Korea that happen here annually in March and in August. The next one was set to start in August, but now, because of a concession, really, that the U.S. gave to North Korea in Tuesday's summit, that scramble to stop the exercises has happened, or is beginning. South Korea could still proceed with its South Korean forces in some sort of exercise. Details are still being hammered out.

But South Korea under Moon Jae-in is OK with this so far. They want to dial down the hostility. Japan, on the flip side, has been far more hawkish and supportive of Trump's original maximum pressure campaign that would've isolated and been tough on North Korea.

INSKEEP: Really unusual exchange between the secretary of state and reporters about exactly what was in this agreement with North Korea. He was asked about some words that he insisted should be there - complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization. The words verifiable and irreversible weren't in the agreement. He was asked about that - Pompeo was - and insisted, no, no, no, no. They're in there. The word complete covers it all. It's understood. He said he was insulted even to be asked the question.

But doesn't this underline that a lot of any kind of nuclear agreement is not written down anywhere? It's people trying to understand what each side wants.

HU: Well, according to past history, verifiable and irreversible were added to complete because North Korea would renege or not stick with its commitments to just complete, right? So each acronym in CVID - complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement - was added because North Korea kind of worked around it. So it was actually critical, arguably, that verifiable get in there, and it didn't.

INSKEEP: OK. NPR's Elise Hu in Seoul. Thanks very much.

HU: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elise Hu is a host-at-large based at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Previously, she explored the future with her video series, Future You with Elise Hu, and served as the founding bureau chief and International Correspondent for NPR's Seoul office. She was based in Seoul for nearly four years, responsible for the network's coverage of both Koreas and Japan, and filed from a dozen countries across Asia.