WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump said Friday that he has directed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to delay a planned trip to North Korea, citing insufficient progress on denuclearization.
Trump put some blame on Beijing, saying he does not believe China is helping "because of our much tougher Trading stance."
"I have asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to go to North Korea, at this time, because I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Trump tweeted Friday.
The president's tweet marks the first time he has acknowledged a lack of progress in the nuclear talks since his meeting in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June.
Trump has repeatedly hailed the meeting as an unqualified success and decried critics who cited the lack of firm commitments required of North Korea in the Singapore agreement.
Trump's comment followed a report issued Monday by the International Atomic Energy Agency outlining "grave concern" about the North's nuclear program. It came a day after Pompeo appointed Stephen Biegun, a senior executive with Ford Motor Co., to be his special envoy for North Korea and said he and Biegun would visit next week.
The State Department never confirmed details of the trip, but it had been expected that Pompeo would be in Pyongyang for at least several hours Monday, according to several diplomatic sources familiar with the plan.
Trump's move also followed two days of trade talks with Chinese officials in Washington that ended without progress, a fact the president alluded to in his decision about the Pyongyang trip.
White House officials declined to specify what prompted Trump to call off Pompeo's trip or what had changed since the president's rose-colored-glasses assessments of the nuclear situation just days ago.
Trump had kept up the positive tone as recently as Tuesday at a campaign rally in West Virginia. There Trump maintained "we're doing well with North Korea."
Trump's decision came after he discussed North Korea at a meeting Friday that included Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence, Chief of Staff John Kelly and Biegun, said two administration officials familiar with the talks.
A senior White House official said national security adviser John Bolton joined the meeting by phone. Intelligence and defense officials were not in the meeting, the official said, seeming to indicate that the breakdown was diplomatic in nature. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations.
The State Department had no immediate comment on the matter and referred questions to the White House.
The U.S. has leaned heavily on China to help enforce the tougher sanctions because Beijing is North Korea's largest trading partner and shares a border with the isolated regime.
In his remarks Friday, Trump said "I do not believe they [China] are helping with the process of denuclearization as they once were." U.S. officials have complained that Beijing appears to have allowed more cross-border trade with North Korea in recent weeks.
The U.S. and China have been locked in a trade dispute for months, with each side ratcheting up tariffs on imports from the other country in what may be the opening salvos of a trade war.
Trump tweeted that "Pompeo looks forward to going to North Korea in the near future, most likely after our Trading relationship with China is resolved." He added: "In the meantime I would like to send my warmest regards and respect to Chairman Kim. I look forward to seeing him soon!"
After more than a year of escalating tensions defined by nuclear and missile tests, new sanctions and "fire and fury" rhetoric, Trump made history by meeting Kim earlier this year. During the summit, the pair signed a vague joint statement in which the North agreed to denuclearize, but which left nearly all details undefined.
"There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea," Trump declared on Twitter after the meeting.
"Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea. President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem," he added. "No longer - sleep well tonight!"
NUCLEAR PROGRAM INTACT
Pompeo would have been hard-pressed to return from Pyongyang with anything resembling progress on the denuclearization front.
Although it has halted nuclear and missile testing and taken some unrelated steps -- dismantling portions of a missile engine facility and returning the suspected remains of American servicemen killed during the Korean War -- its nuclear weapons program and ballistic missile development remain intact, according the U.N.'s atomic watchdog and intelligence agencies.
Pompeo conceded before the Senate recently that Kim's regime continues producing fissile material and has provided no inventory of its nuclear program and facilities.
In addition, recent statements from North Korean officials have ruled out any new concessions until it sees a reciprocal gesture from the U.S. beyond suspending military exercises with South Korea. North Korea has been demanding that the U.S. ease or lift crippling sanctions -- something Pompeo and Bolton have flatly ruled out until North Korea's nuclear program is fully and verifiably dismantled.
Other than sanctions relief, the North, backed by South Korea, has been seeking a declaration of the end of the Korean War. The conflict stopped with the signing of an armistice rather than a peace treaty, meaning the war is not technically over. Both the North and South have vowed to end the open state of hostilities, and Seoul had been hoping to persuade the Trump administration to sign off on a nonbinding end-of-war declaration as a goodwill gesture that would give Kim domestic cover to proceed with denuclearization moves.
South Korea also announced this week that it would set up a liaison office at an industrial park it sponsors in North Korea. That followed a set of reunions this week between families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
In South Korea earlier this month, President Moon Jae-in outlined plans for broad economic cooperation with the North, including joint economic zones on the border and a rail network.
Moon turned aside concerns from the conservative political opposition that his government was moving too quickly in its overtures to the North. In a speech, Moon said South Korea should not take a back seat in resolving disputes between the North and the Trump administration.
"It is important to recognize that we are the protagonists in Korean Peninsula-related issues," he said. "Developments in inter-Korean relations are not the byeffects of progress in the relationship between the North and the United States."
Pompeo and other administration officials have suggested some concessions short of easing or lifting sanctions are possible before verified denuclearization, but have refused to be specific about what they could be. And they have been skeptical about an end-of-war declaration in the absence of any progress on the nuclear matter.
At the same time, lawmakers from both parties, including GOP hawks who generally support Trump, have expressed concerns about such a move, as it could be used by the North to demand the removal of U.S. troops from South Korea and potentially Japan without anything in return.
Information for this article was contributed by Zeke Miller, Matthew Lee and Darlene Superville of The Associated Press; by Bill Faries, Margaret Talev and Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg News; by Mark Landler and Eileen Sullivan of The New York Times; and by John Hudson of The Washington Post.
A Section on 08/25/2018
Print Headline: Pompeo's N. Korea visit off; Trump faults China