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Confusion Remains After Summit On Whether North Korea Will Fully Denuclearize


After the U.S.-North Korea summit, the two leaders signed a document that does not have a lot of details. And today, that has led to different interpretations of what the two sides agreed to - whether North Korea will fully denuclearize, how quickly and whether it will allow international observers to verify those steps. A lot of the confusion came out today in a conversation that secretary of state Mike Pompeo had with a small group of reporters traveling with him. Michael Gordon of the Wall Street Journal was part of that group of reporters and joins us now. Welcome to the program.


SHAPIRO: President Trump has said this agreement was the beginning. So what did Secretary Pompeo tell you about the next steps in these negotiations?

GORDON: Well, first off, he said it wasn't entirely clear when they were going to meet with the North again, but he hoped it would be soon. And then he sought to argue against the criticism which has come from some former negotiators that the summit declaration is too vague. You know, the term irreversible and verifiable don't appear in the summit declaration. But Secretary Pompeo argued that they were implicit somehow in the document.

SHAPIRO: He said the word complete includes verifiable and irreversible, and the word complete is in the document?

GORDON: That word complete's there. And he says it means irreversible and verifiable, even though they're not there, and that that was understood by the North Koreans. And therefore, this was just a minor semantic issue.

So that's a big point of contention because some former negotiators who say the North Koreans are very literal about what they agree to. And for example, when they agree to ban long-range missiles, and they don't agree to ban space launch vehicles, you know, that opens up a loophole. So some of the critics have said, you know, you got to watch this language very carefully. Secretary Pompeo was saying it's good enough and that the North Koreans know what we mean.

SHAPIRO: Pompeo was in Seoul to talk with his counterparts from South Korea and Japan. Do you think this language is going to be good enough for them? Is he going to have a hard time selling this agreement?

GORDON: Well, you know, a big issue really is President Trump's decision to cancel exercises with South Korea, which the Pentagon for years has insisted are really vital to maintain the readiness of U.S. forces here. And this is a decision that was made without consultation with the South Korean government. And we asked Secretary Pompeo about it. He said he didn't want to get into the internal discussions of how the decision was made, but he stressed that President Trump told Kim Jong Un that the U.S. would put the exercises back on if it determined that the North wasn't serious in these negotiations that are about to ensue.

SHAPIRO: Secretary Pompeo also met with the commander of U.S. forces in Korea today. And as you said, the Pentagon always insisted that these joint military exercises were really important and necessary. Do you think the State Department and the Pentagon have now gotten on the same page?

GORDON: Well, you know, the Defense Department put out a statement yesterday that Secretary Mattis had been consulted in advance of this decision. But what nobody in the administration has said is so what was Secretary Mattis' advice? What was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Dunford's, advice? What was General Brooks' input, who is the commander of U.S. forces in Korea?

You know, the - for many years, the North insisted that these exercises be canceled. So it was certainly quite a gesture on the part of the Trump administration to do so. And that is the culmination of the negotiating process, but basically to jump-start the negotiating process.

SHAPIRO: Finally, Secretary Pompeo gave you an ambitious timeline. Many Korea experts say denuclearization would take 10 to 15 years. What did Secretary Pompeo say?

GORDON: Yeah. This was the question I asked because we had heard the administration wants to get this done in President Trump's first term. And Secretary Pompeo confirmed that. He said that the goal was to get what he called major disarmament, major steps, you know, in the next two and a half years. That doesn't mean that everything would be completely dismantled. You know, that could take years longer. But you would be well on your way towards this process of complete, irreversible, verifiable dismantlement of the North's nuclear arsenal.

So that's a very ambitious timeline. And it's striking because North Korea has insisted that it prefers a phased approach, which could really drag out for many more years. So I still think this is very likely to be a major bone of contention in the talks going forward.

SHAPIRO: That's Michael Gordon of the Wall Street Journal, traveling with Secretary of State Pompeo. Thanks for joining us today.

GORDON: All right. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.