By Lesley Wroughton and Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday relations with Pyongyang would return to “situation normal” after the cancellation of a historic leaders’ summit although he expressed hope that the sides could resume denuclearization talks.
Shortly after President Donald Trump announced he was calling off the meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Pompeo headed into a four-hour Senate hearing where Democrats slammed the administration’s handling of the matter.
“The art of diplomacy is a lot harder than the art of the deal,” Senator Bob Menendez, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said, referring to the title of Trump’s 1987 book.
Pompeo pushed back at the criticism during often heated exchanges over the administration’s tactics for the summit and what some Democrats said were unhelpful comments by U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, who suggested a Libya-style denuclearization for North Korea.
“I’m not sure that constantly quoting the Libya model is the diplomatic way to try to get to the results that we seek in North Korea, because that didn’t work out too well for Gaddafi,” said Menendez. Libya’s dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed in 2011 after he abandoned his country’s nuclear arms program in 2003.
Trump announced his abrupt withdrawal from the summit in a letter to Kim on Thursday and called it a “missed opportunity.”
Pompeo said the administration would not ease up on sanctions against Pyongyang and had a commitment from Beijing that it would abide by UN and other sanctions on North Korea.
“In some ways it’s ‘situation normal.’ The pressure campaign continues,” Pompeo said when asked whether relations with Pyongyang would return to the volatile rhetoric and nuclear threats of the past.
He said he was disappointed but not surprised that the summit did not work out.
Pompeo, who twice met with Kim in recent months, said that over the past “many days” North Korea had not responded to American planning queries about the summit.
“Over the past many days we have endeavored to do what Chairman Kim and I had agreed, to put preparation teams together to begin to work for the summit and we had received no response to our inquiries to them,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo said he hoped Pyongyang and Washington will be able to resume talks on dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear program but emphasized that the decision was ultimately up to Kim.
“I hope we quickly are able to get back to that place, but ultimately Chairman Kim will have that decision to make for himself,” he said.
Pompeo said Trump had made the decision himself to withdraw after meetings on Wednesday at the White House in which he concluded the summit would not have a successful outcome.
“There is a lot of discussion within the administration about how to proceed on that. I am confident that in coming days we will have laid that out in some detail,” Pompeo said, “We always knew there could be a summit that didn’t work, that ultimately was unsuccessful.”
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and James Dalgleish)