The US special envoy for North Korea laid out an extensive list of demands for North Korean denuclearisation on Thursday that was likely to anger Pyongyang, even as President Donald Trump said the date and place for a second summit were set and hailed “tremendous progress” in his dealings with the country.
In a speech at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, envoy Stephen Biegun called for North Korea to declare all its nuclear and missile programmes and warned that Washington had “contingencies” if the diplomatic process failed.
Biegun said Washington would have to have expert access and monitoring mechanisms of the key nuclear and missile sites and “ultimately ensure removal or destruction of stockpiles of fissile material, weapons, missiles, launchers and other weapons of mass destruction”.
Pyongyang has rejected declaring its weapons programmes for decades.
Biegun also said that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un committed during an October visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the dismantlement and destruction of North Korea’s plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities.
The information from Biegun goes much further than Pompeo himself did after his trip and further than any public statement by Pyongyang.
Trump appeared upbeat about the prospects for his second summit with Kim, telling reporters in the Oval Office on Thursday that a time and location had been agreed upon and would be announced next week.
He said he was making “tremendous progress” with North Korea. “They very much want the meeting. And I think they really want to do something, and we’ll see.”
Pompeo said on Wednesday that North Korea had agreed that the summit would be held at the end of February and that it would be “someplace in Asia”.
Trump and Kim met in Singapore last June in the first summit between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader, an event that produced a vague commitment by Kim to work towards the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, where US troops have been stationed in the South since the 1950-53 Korean War.
The State Department said Biegun would travel to South Korea on February 3 for talks with his North Korean counterpart Kim Hyok Chol “to discuss next steps to advance our objective of the final fully verified denuclearisation of North Korea and steps to make further progress on all the commitments the two leaders made in Singapore”.
North Korea has complained that the United States has done little to reciprocate for the actions it has taken so far to dismantle some weapons facilities. It has repeatedly demanded a lifting of punishing US-led sanctions and has also sought a formal end to the war.
Trump’s optimism comes despite his own intelligence chiefs’ assessments that said there was little likelihood Kim would voluntarily give up his nuclear weapons or missiles capable of carrying them.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress on Tuesday that the government’s spy assessment does not support the idea that Kim would eliminate his nuclear weapons or the capacity for building more.
Private analysts, in several reports in the past four months, have also drawn on commercial satellite imagery to determine that the North was continuing to develop its nuclear and missile technology despite the test suspension.
In his speech, Biegun said the United States had told North Korea it was prepared to pursue commitments made in Singapore “simultaneously and in parallel” and had already eased rules on the delivery of humanitarian aid to North Korea.
He said he planned to discuss “corresponding measures” Washington was willing to take in return for the dismantlement of North Korea’s enrichment capabilities when he holds talks with his counterpart next week.
He was blunt about US expectations and said Trump had made clear he expected “significant and verifiable progress on denuclearisation” to emerge from the next summit.
“Before the process of denuclearisation can be final, we must have a complete understanding of the full extent of the North Korean WMD and missile programmes through a comprehensive declaration,” he said.
“We must reach agreement on expert access and monitoring mechanisms of key sites to international standards, and ultimately ensure the removal or destruction of stockpiles of fissile material, weapons, missiles, launchers and other weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
Biegun said all these details would have to be addressed in working-level negotiations if the conditions were to be put in place “to fundamentally transform the US-North Korean relations and establish peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
He pledged that once North Korea was denuclearised the US was prepared to explore with North Korea and other countries the best way to mobilise investment in the country.
Biegun said the past 25 years of talks had shown that the possibility of failure was great, and stressed, “We need to have contingencies if the diplomatic process fails – which we do.”