U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left for North Korea Thursday to flesh out a deal on dismantling the regime's nuclear weapons program.
Pompeo boarded a plane at Joint Base Andrews, just outside of Washington, early in the day, on his first trip to Pyongyang since last month's historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The two leaders reached a broad agreement to work toward the "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula in exchange for security guarantees from the U.S.
Pompeo is slated to arrive in Pyongyang Friday (local time) following a stop in Anchorage, Alaska. He is expected to hold a day and a half of meetings through Saturday, including with Kim, to hammer out details.
Key issues include securing a declaration of all of North Korea's nuclear arsenal, a verification regime for dismantlement and a timeline for denuclearization.
As part of the summit agreement, North Korea could also deliver the remains of American soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War.
"Looking forward to continuing our work toward the final, fully verified denuclearization of #DPRK, as agreed to by Chairman Kim," Pompeo tweeted en route, using the acronym for North Korea's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"Good to have the press along for the trip," he added. Six reporters are accompanying him.
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said Sunday that he expects Pompeo to discuss with the North Koreans a plan to dismantle the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs in a year.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Tuesday declined to provide a timeline, saying the secretary will be going into the meetings "eyes wide open, with a very clear view of these conversations."
She also denied that the U.S. has eased its demand for "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization," speculation that emerged after the State Department started defining its goal as the "final, fully verified denuclearization" instead.
"Nothing could be further from the truth. Our policy toward North Korea has not changed," Reuters quoted Nauert as telling reporters en route to Pyongyang. "We are committed to a denuclearized North Korea and Secretary Pompeo looks forward to continuing his consultations with North Korean leaders to follow up on the commitments made at the Singapore summit."
Pompeo is making his third known visit to Pyongyang. On his two earlier trips, he also met with Kim and laid the groundwork for the summit.
News reports over the weekend cited U.S. intelligence sources as questioning the North's commitment to abandoning its nuclear arsenal. Many of them pointed to findings that indicate a build-up of the regime's nuclear-related facilities. They also accused Pyongyang of trying to deceive Washington in order to extract concessions without ever giving up its nuclear program.
Following his trip to Pyongyang, Pompeo will travel to Tokyo for trilateral talks with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts and then to Vietnam, the United Arab Emirates and Belgium. (yonhap)