Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a Press Availability


May 31, 2018

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a Press Availability


Lotte Palace Hotel

Spellman Room

New York, New York

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Good afternoon, everyone.  As you know, in addition to my meeting with Vice Chairman Kim Yong-chol, we have teams in Singapore and at the DMZ working with their North Korean counterparts to prepare for President Trump and Chairman Kim’s expected summit in Singapore.  Through these series of meetings, I am confident we are moving in the right direction.

Today, Vice Chairman Kim and I discussed how our countries could come together and take advantage of the unique opportunity that our two leaders have created through their visions of the future that they have so clearly articulated.  Vice Chairman Kim Yong-chol is now planning to travel to Washington to deliver a personal letter from Chairman Kim Jong-un.

The proposed summit offers a historic opening for President Trump and Chairman Kim to boldly lead the United States and the DPRK into a new era of peace, prosperity, and security.  Our two countries face a pivotal moment in our relationship in which it could be nothing short of tragic to let this opportunity go to waste.

In my conversations with Chairman Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang and today with Vice Chairman Kim Yong-chol, I have been very clear that President Trump and the United States objective is very consistent and well known: the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  President Trump has also made it clear that if Kim Jong-un denuclearizes, there is a brighter path for North Korea.  We envision a strong, connected, and secure, prosperous North Korea that maintains its cultural heritage but is integrated into the community of nations.

We think that working together, the people of the United States and North Korea can create a future defined by friendship and collaboration, not by mistrust and fear and threats.  We sincerely hope that Chairman Kim Jong-un shares this positive vision for the future.  We expect both leaders to enter the summit in Singapore, if it proceeds, with their eyes wide open and with a clear understanding of the possibilities for the future.  If these talks are successful, it will truly be historic.  It will take bold leadership from Chairman Kim Jong-un if we are able to seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the course for the world.

President Trump and I believe Chairman Kim is the kind of leader who can make those kinds of decisions, and that in the coming weeks and months we will have the opportunity to test whether or not this is the case.

Happy to take a couple questions.

MS NAUERT:  Our first question – and one question each, please – goes to Nick Wadhams from Bloomberg.  Nick, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thanks.  Mr. Secretary, last night the State Department told us that the U.S. would be looking for a historic commitment from North Korea before the summit would go ahead.  Today you ended talks with Kim Yong-chol early.  Can you talk about why you did that?  Did you get the commitment you sought and do the U.S. and North Korea now agree on what denuclearization would mean?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So that’s a (inaudible) matter.  We didn’t end the talks early.  We had a set series of items that we wanted to make sure we covered, topics which we made sure that we were clear on in terms of what our expectations were and their expectations in return of us.  We achieved that.  This is a difficult, difficult challenge.  Make no mistake about it.  There remains a great deal of work to do.  And we made progress here as well as at the same time made progress in the other venues that conversations were taking place.  We had all the time we needed today to make the progress that was achievable during our time here in New York City.

MS NAUERT:  Our next question goes to Michael Gordon from The Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION:  Sir, following up on that, a senior State Department official – same person who spoke to us last night – also indicated that the United States hopes to persuade North Korea that its security doesn’t depend on nuclear weapons.  You’ve now had three meetings with them and spent some hours with them.  Do you feel that you’ve been successful yet in doing that, or is the difficult in settling this issue the reason why President Trump is now talking about the possibility of having two or three summits and not just trying to break the back of these issues in a single meeting?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, this is – look, make no mistake about it.  President Trump, this administration completely understands how hard this problem is.  There is a long history where North Korea has viewed its nuclear program as providing the security that it needed for the regime.  The effort now is to come to a set of understandings which convince the North Koreans of what President Trump has said.  If we’re able to achieve it, if the North Koreans are prepared in fact to denuclearize – this includes all elements of their nuclear program – if we convince them of that, that in fact their security is greater, that in fact the real threat to their security is the continued holding onto of that nuclear weapons program and not the converse.  We’ve had lots of conversations around that.  The true test, of course, comes when we actually achieve this, but many conversations have been had about how we might proceed, what the path might be forward so that we can achieve both the denuclearization that the world demands of North Korea and the security assurances that would be required for them to allow us to achieve that.

MS NAUERT:  Next one to Martha Raddatz from ABC News.

QUESTION:  Secretary Pompeo, you call it a proposed summit.  Will we find out whether it’s a go tomorrow?  And also, you looked the vice chairman in the eyes.  You have been with him in the room.  What accounted for the progress?  This has been such a roller coaster ride.  The summit was off; we’ve gone from fire and fury to this.  So talk about what accounted for the change, and do you worry that you could still change back?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So Martha, I have had the chance to meet Chairman Kim Jong-un twice and now Kim Yong-chol three times.  I’ve spent a great deal of time with each of them.  I believe they are contemplating a path forward where they can make a strategic shift, one that their country has not been prepared to make before.  This will obviously be their decision.  They’ll have to make that.  They’ll have to choose – as I just spoke about, they’ll have to choose a path that is fundamentally different than the one that their country has proceeded on for decades.  It should not be to anyone’s surprise that there will be moments along the way that this won’t be straightforward, that there’ll be things that look hard and times it appears there’s a roadblock and sometimes, perhaps, even perceived as insurmountable.

Our mission is incredibly clear.  It is to continue to push forward – the President has directed me to push forward to test the proposition that we can achieve that outcome.  So I know everyone’s following this minute by minute and hour by hour.  This is going to be a process that will take days and weeks to work our way through.  There will be tough moments, there will be difficult times.  I’ve had some difficult conversations with them as well.  They’ve given it right back to me too.  There is – we’re decades into this challenge, and so one not ought to be either surprised or frightened or deterred by moments where it looks like there are challenges and difficulties, things that can’t be bridged.  Our mission is to bridge them so that we can achieve this historic outcome.

QUESTION:  And on the proposed summit, will we know tomorrow whether there will actually be a summit?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Don’t know.  Don’t know the answer to that.

MS NAUERT:  And our final question goes to Adam Shapiro with Fox News.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Let me just say, Martha, while we may not know tomorrow, I will tell you we’ve made real progress in the last 72 hours toward setting the conditions, right – so your question really goes to what are the conditions.  The conditions are putting President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un in a place where we think there could be real progress made by the two of them meeting.  It does no good if we’re in a place where we don’t think there’s real opportunity to place them together.  We’ve made real progress towards that in the last 72 hours.

MS NAUERT:  And Adam from Fox.

QUESTION:  Secretary Pompeo, you talk about complete denuclearization of the peninsula, so my question is about this and the impact on our allies.  What concern does the United States have about exposing South Korea and our Asian allies, like Japan, to greater, perhaps, Chinese influence if there is as part of a deal in the future a draw-down of U.S. military presence in South Korea?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I’m not going to talk about today nor at any time during the negotiations about the elements of what the shape of the agreement looks like.  That’s – those are things that ought to be held so that the leaders have all the freedom they need to make the right decision.  So with respect to the draw-down, it’s obviously a DOD issue.  I’m not going to speak to that today.

What I can say is this:  I’ve been the Secretary of State now for 30-odd days, I think.  There is no daylight between the South Koreans, the Japanese, and the United States with respect to our approach to how we resolve this issue with respect to North Korea.  I have spoken to my counterparts there, I’ve spoken to President Moon there.  We understand their concerns.  We understand the risks that can be posed to them.  And an agreement that we reach will provide an outcome that each of those countries can sign on to as well.

QUESTION:  But is there the potential for the creation, for lack of a better term, of a vacuum that the Chinese could then move in, whether it be economic, political, or militarily?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  The Chinese are moving all around the world today.  Let’s be clear.  The risk of that is real everywhere, not just in this particular space.  We’re keenly aware of it, and I’m – I am confident that the things we’re talking about with respect to North Korea will not enhance the risk of that to any significant degree.  We wouldn’t do that to the South Koreans or the Japanese, two of our most important allies in the region.

MS NAUERT:  Okay, everyone.  Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thank you very much.

MS NAUERT:  Thank you so much.  Good to see you.

QUESTION:  Are we going to Singapore?