President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un signed an agreement Tuesday in which both leaders pledged to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
But the agreement — which was less than 400 words — was surprisingly short on details. There is no timeline for the denuclearization, no details of what it would actually look like in practical terms, and no indication of how it will be verified. In addition, Trump announced that the United States would cease joint military exercises with South Korea — which he termed “provocative” — a decision that caught both South Korean officials and the Pentagon by surprise.
The lack of details in the agreement suggest that there remains a long way to go before anything of substance is achieved (and that it’s probably too early to celebrate). But for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a single word in the agreement was proof enough of its solidity.
“A lot has been made of the fact that the word ‘verifiable’ didn’t appear in the agreement,” Pompeo offered in a briefing at the Hilton Hotel in Seoul on Wednesday. “Let me assure you that the ‘complete’ encompasses verifiable in the minds of everyone concerned. One can’t completely denuclearize without validating, authenticating – you pick the word.”
When reporters continued to press him about what mechanism in the agreement guarantees that any steps toward denuclearization would be verifiable — as opposed to mere language in the agreement — Pompeo again highlighted that the word “complete” was in the statement and as such, it was “insulting” that reporters were asking for additional details.
QUESTION: How is it in the statement? And I am also —
SECRETARY POMPEO: You’re just – because “complete” encompasses verifiable and irreversible. It just – I suppose we – you could argue semantics, but let me assure you that it’s in the document.
QUESTION: And the President said it will be verified.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Of course it will.
QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit more about —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Of course it will. I mean —
QUESTION: — what is – what discussed about how?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Just so you know, you could ask me this – I find that question insulting and ridiculous and, frankly, ludicrous. I just have to be honest with you. It’s a game and one ought not play games with serious matters like this.
QUESTION: But how will it be verified? Did you discuss that? Do you have —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, we’re – they’re – the modalities are beginning to develop. There’ll be a great deal of work to do. It’s – there’s a long way to go, there’s much to think about, but don’t say silly things. No, don’t, don’t. It’s not productive. It’s not productive to do that, to say silly things. It’s just – it’s unhelpful.
QUESTION: Well, I think —
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s unhelpful for your readers, your listeners, for the world. It’s – because it doesn’t remotely reflect the American position or the understandings that the North Koreans have either.
QUESTION: We’re just trying to understand how it reflects what you asked that —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, and I just articulated that for you.
Pompeo did not elaborate on a specific timeline, but said that the administration was seeking total denuclearization in North Korea by the end of Trump’s term in 2020, a little over two years away.
For the sake of comparison, it took more than 20 months for the United States and the rest of the P5+1 countries (United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, and Germany) to negotiate with Iran to achieve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known more commonly as the Iran Deal, in 2015. The first document to come out of those negotiations was the Joint Plan of Action in 2013. That document established a six-month timeframe, during which Iran would receive limited sanctions relief in exchange for freezing key parts of its nuclear program in a number of ways. Iran would limit uranium enrichment to 5 percent, refrain from installing new centrifuges, and halt work at its Arak heavy-water reactor, among other steps. Iran also agreed to subject itself to daily monitoring by international nuclear inspectors.