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State Department declines to provide timeline for NK denuclearization

The US State Department on Tuesday declined to specify a time frame for dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear program as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to travel to Pyongyang to discuss the communist state’s denuclearization later this week.

“I know some individuals have given timelines. We’re not going to provide a timeline for that,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said at a regular press briefing.

US national security adviser John Bolton said in a media interview Sunday that the US has a plan to dismantle the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs in a year. Asked whether Bolton would join Pompeo for the trip to Pyongyang, she said, “Not to my awareness.”

Pompeo is set to leave for Pyongyang on Thursday to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and discuss follow-up measures on an agreement signed by Kim and US President Donald Trump at their historic summit last month. 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and National Security Adviser John Bolton (Reuters)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and National Security Adviser John Bolton (Reuters)

In the joint statement, North Korea committed to work toward “complete denuclearization” and the US promised a security guarantee for the reclusive regime. It fell short of details on how and when it could be implemented.

“The secretary’s looking forward to having these meetings. A lot of work is left to be done, certainly. We go into this eyes wide open, with a very clear view of these conversations,” she added.

Pompeo has “at least a day and a half of meetings planned” through Saturday, before he flies to Tokyo to meet South Korean and Japanese leaders to brief them on his meeting with North Korean counterparts, according to the State Department.

Nauert also dismissed doubts over North Korea’s willingness to denuclearize amid news reports that suggested that Pyongyang seeks to deceive Washington about the number of nuclear warheads and existence of undisclosed facilities.

“We don’t talk about intelligence matters,” Nauert said. “But the secretary -- we’re all keeping a close eye -- the US government is keeping a close eye on North Korea -- and the secretary has been very clear and very blunt with the North Koreans about what he expects.”

Meanwhile, Trump tweeted Tuesday that if it were not for him, “we would now be at War with North Korea!”

“Many good conversations with North Korea-it is going well! In the meantime, no Rocket Launches or Nuclear Testing in 8 months. All of Asia is thrilled,” he said in a tweet.

Nauert explained that what he meant was that “we’re in a good position today,” compared to one year ago, when North Korea launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile,

The State Department’s refusal to specify a timeframe could be meant to lower expectations for the outcome of Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang, experts say.

“It appears it would be difficult for Pompeo to get a specific road map and timeframe for North Korea’s denuclearization from North Korea during his visit this time,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

By Ock Hyun-ju (