Inside Pompeo’s Fraught North Korea Trip

 

Mike Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol in Pyongyang on July 7.Photographer: Andrew Harnik/AFP via Getty Images

Bloomberg, by Nick Wadhams, July 8, 2018:

As U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo touched down in Pyongyang at 10:54 a.m. on Friday he had few details of his schedule in the North Korean capital — even which hotel he and his staff would stay in.

Not much was clear aside from lunch with counterpart Kim Yong Chol to start filling in the “nitty-gritty details’’ from the Singapore declaration signed between the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea, according to his spokeswoman Heather Nauert. A handshake with Kim Jong Un, at least, seemed certain.

In the end, Pompeo stayed at neither of the hotels where he thought he’d be. The North Koreans took him, his staff and the six journalists traveling with the delegation to a gated guesthouse on the outskirts of the capital, just behind the mausoleum where the bodies of regime founder Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il lie embalmed and on occasional display.

It was the start of a confused visit of less than 30 hours, marked by a pair of lavish banquets that the secretary and his staff appeared to dread for their length and the daunting number of courses presented by unfailingly polite waiters. He only learned of his own schedule hours ahead of time, and the meeting with Kim Jong Un never happened — despite strenuous efforts from his staff

Read more: U.S.-North Korea Talks Stumble

The trip reflects the difficulty for Pompeo in dealing with one of the world’s most reclusive and unpredictable regimes, which can shift from threats to warm words and back again at speed. It comes as pressure mounts on him to show progress on the delicate task of getting North Korea to move forward on nuclear disarmament, including the issue of verification, and make good on President Donald Trump’s claimed accomplishments from the Singapore summit.

Amid talk of goodwill and Trump’s repeated tweets of the bond he has developed with Kim, it was also a jarring reminder that North Korea’s approach may not have changed as much as U.S. officials — and Pompeo in particular — had hoped. The U.S. is seeking to persuade the world the North Koreans are genuinely prepared to give up the weapons they have developed in the face of years of false starts and broken promises to successive U.S. administrations.

From the moment Pompeo landed in Pyongyang, North Korean officials quickly asserted control. Kim Yong Chol set the optics during their first meeting, which took place around a long wooden table in one of the many conference rooms off the carpeted hallways of the guesthouse complex.

Read more: North Korea Expanding Missile-Manufacturing Plant

Normally, media handlers from the host country would let reporters witness the first 30 seconds or so of such a meeting. But Kim’s staff allowed reporters to stay for several minutes.

“The more you come, the more trust we can build between one another,” Kim said.

Pompeo, who has yet to gain a taste for such theater, murmured a few pleasantries but quickly lost patience and called on Nauert to usher all media — North Korean reporters included — from the room.

Between the many hours of talks, the North Koreans sought to put forward an image of bounty and wealth, an alternate reality in a country where much of the population lives in hunger, lacks electricity and has little to no access to the internet or foreign television.

Bearing Fruit

In the guesthouse, each room had bowls of bananas, grapes, oranges and pears that were replenished whenever the occupant was out. The internet speed was fast in each room and the BBC played on flat-screen televisions. In a country laden with the iconography of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, there were no portraits of either man in the compound.

Still, the reminders were there. Guests could roam the grounds and walk a path that surrounded a lake, but were blocked from approaching workers erecting a building nearby. Guards watched surreptitiously from behind a stand of trees.

The lack of U.S. control clearly rankled Pompeo. A former military officer accustomed to short, focused meetings, he was made to sit through multi-course meals with Kim and his staff, as waiters brought plate after plate of food — foie gras, turkey, pea soup, boiled oak mushrooms, kimchi, watermelon and ice cream, plus a drink branded “American Cola.”

By the morning of his second day, Pompeo had enough. Instead of the elaborate breakfast prepared for him, he ate toast and slices of processed cheese.

Read more: U.S. Upgrading Korea Missile Defense Even as ‘War Games’ Halted

Despite the lack of progress, the North Koreans showed a keen awareness of broader politics in the U.S. under Trump. On the way from the airport, riding in a Dodge Ram van, a minder was noncommittal about what the talks might bring.

“We’ll have to see, like your president says,” he said. He paused and added: “In this van, no fake news?”

The specifics of what happened behind closed doors remain unclear. Whether Pompeo somehow annoyed his counterpart, or pressed too hard, or whether the North Koreans are simply reverting to their hot-and-cold tactics, is hard to say. But the regime made sure to have the final word, and it was not pleasant.

As he was leaving, Pompeo told reporters the conversations were “productive and in good faith.” Hours later North Korean state media issued a statement that did not mention him by name but called the demands he presented “gangster-like.”

Days before the trip began, reporters traveling with Pompeo had to rush to get new passports with a special endorsement allowing entry to North Korea. In the end, authorities in Pyongyang never stamped them and the documents were returned unblemished. It was as if the secretary had never visited at all.

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U.S. Prepares Timeline of ‘Specific Asks’ for North Korea

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Breitbart, by Jon Hayward,  June 26, 2018:

A senior defense official giving a background briefing to reporters on Sunday stated that the Trump administration will soon present North Korea with a “specific timeline” for denuclearization filled with “specific asks,” and will judge Pyongyang’s degree of “good faith” by how well the timeline is received.

“We’ll know pretty soon if they’re going to operate in good faith or not,” the anonymous official said, as recounted by Reuters. “There will be specific asks and there will be a specific timeline when we present the North Koreans with our concept of what implementation of the summit agreement looks like.”

Reuters implies the promise of “specific asks” was, to some degree, a response to criticisms that President Donald Trump has not made enough specific demands of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un yet, and most of the concessions offered by Kim to date have been symbolic gestures of little real cost to the North Korean regime.

The press briefing was held on Sunday in advance of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s trip to Asia, during which he will visit China, South Korea, and Japan. As he departed, Mattis confirmed that both the major Ulchi Freedom Guardian drill and two smaller training exercises with South Korea have been suspended, a gesture intended to keep negotiations with North Korea on track.

The timetable presented to North Korea will probably be quite aggressive, as Reuters notes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has stated major disarmament should be underway before the end of President Trump’s first term. Some analysts have said full and irreversible disarmament could take 15 years or more, so the Trump administration’s goal is presumably to complete solid initial steps that will demonstrate North Korea is truly committed to following that long path.

One of the goals Mattis outlined for his trip to China is ensuring Beijing will remain committed to enforcing strong sanctions against North Korea until denuclearization is achieved. China will almost certainly wish to reward North Korea with immediate sanctions relief if progress on denuclearization is made, so it will be important to ensure China understands and agrees with the timetable presented to Pyongyang.

Mattis will also push for more regional security cooperation from China by pointing out that the suspension of U.S. military exercises with South Korea satisfies a major Chinese strategic objective, which is the real reason China has insisted so strongly on its “freeze-for-freeze” plan that made suspension of American exercises a precondition for nuclear talks with North Korea.

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Bolton: Withdrawing From U.N. Human Rights Council Was ‘Decades in the Making’

Washington Free Beacon, by David  Rutz, June 20, 2018:

White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said Wednesday the U.S. decision to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council was “decades in the making” and “clearly the right decision.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley announced the decision to withdraw from the council on Tuesday. They cited the membership of known human rights abusers like China, Cuba, and Venezuela on the council, its fixation on condemning Israel and its inability or lack of desire to condemn true wrongdoers.

“This decision in many respects has been decades in the making,” Bolton said on “Fox and Friends,” calling the council a place where human rights were a priority. “It’s clearly the right decision to get off. It’s the right decision to defund the Human Rights Council.”

Bolton said the U.S. was self-governing and didn’t need advice from the U.N. or other international bodies on how to run itself. He noted he voted against creating the council when he served as U.N. Ambassador during the George W. Bush administration.

From 2006 to 2016, the Human Rights Council condemned Israel 68 times. In comparison, it condemned Syria 20 times and Iran six times.

“Israel is, as the saying goes, a canary in the mineshaft for the United States,” Bolton said. “Countries that attack Israel do it because they think it’s easier, but much of their criticism is really aimed at us.”

Speaking about the decision Tuesday night, Pompeo called the organization a “poor defender of human rights.”

“Worse than that, the Human Rights Council has become an exercise in shameless hypocrisy with many of the world’s worst human rights abuses going ignored and some of the world’s most serious offenders sitting on the Council itself,” he said.

Haley said the Human Rights Council “damages the cause of human rights.”

“For too long, the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias … The Council ceases to be worthy of its name,” she said.

Game on: The New Strategy of the US and its allies in the Middle East

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks on the Trump administration’s Iran policy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, US May 21, 2018.. (photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)

Bad management, corruption and a failure of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to generate expected levels of foreign investment compound the problem.

Jerusalem Post, by Jonathan Spyer, May 24, 2018:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s outlining of 12 conditions that Iran would need to meet in order to make possible a new nuclear deal amounts to a call for the wholesale reversal of Iranian regional strategy.

The conditions stated are not only, or primarily, concerned with the nuclear program. In addition to a call for the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force to end “support for ‘terrorists’ and ‘militant’ partners around the world,” there are specific demands for a cessation of support to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Iraqi Shia militias, the Houthis in Yemen and the Assad regime in Syria.

These are not a list of demands issued with the expectation that they will be met. Rather, they are a clear setting down of US goals in an emerging strategy to contain and roll back Iran’s advance in the region.

SO WHAT are the practical aspects of such a policy? And what might Iran’s response be to an attempt to implement it?

Iran today is a country in the midst of an economic and environmental crisis.

The rial has fallen 47% against the dollar since January. The country is blighted by drought – precipitation across the country fell by 46% in the past 50 years, and Tehran has seen a 66% drop in rainfall in just a year. This is impacting on the agricultural sector.

Bad management, corruption and a failure of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to generate expected levels of foreign investment compound the problem. Unrest and demonstrations continue in many parts of the country.

At the same time, Iran is in danger of imperial overstretch. It is heavily committed in two ongoing regional conflicts – in Syria and in Yemen – and also has major assets requiring investment in Lebanon (Hezbollah), Iraq (the Shia militias) and among the Palestinians (Islamic Jihad and Hamas). While Iran is dominant in Lebanon and ascendant in Syria and Iraq, it has achieved a final and conclusive victory in no area.

A strategy seeking to contain further Iranian gains and then to roll Iran back is likely to focus on increasing the cost of Iran’s adventures abroad and exacerbate internal tensions while subjecting the country to tactical humiliations and defeats in order to reduce any domestic benefit to be accrued from regional commitments. Tehran will thus be forced to either spend more on its commitments, exacerbating the problems at home, or pull back, with the accompanying humiliation and loss of prestige.

Thus, the intention will be to raise the cost and reduce the benefits accruing to Iran from its policy of interference and sponsorship of proxies in neighboring countries.

What precise form is this effort likely to take? First, it is important to note that this is not to be a US effort alone. Rather, the clear intention is to mobilize US allies that share the concerns regarding the Iranian threat.

There are three areas in which the effort is likely to be undertaken – military, economic and political.

Regarding military activity, there are currently two fronts of active conflict occurring in the region between Iran and US allies. These are the Saudi/ UAE intervention in Yemen, and Israel’s actions to prevent Iranian consolidation and entrenchment in Syria.

It is unlikely that the events of May 10, in which Israel and Iran exchanged fire across the Syrian frontier, will prove to be the final round of conflict between the two countries. (It is notable that this round came from an unsuccessful Iranian attempt to respond through missile fire for earlier Israeli operations.)

Apart from their practical application, the Israeli operations have the value of forcing the Iranians into an arena in which they are very weak – air power and air defense – thus hitting at their prestige.

They currently have the choice of appearing to desist from further attempts at developing their infrastructure or facing the certainty of Israeli action in an area in which they have little ability to respond.

In Yemen, it has become commonplace to describe the Saudi/Emirati intervention as a quagmire and a failure. In reality, however, the intervention prevented the Iran-supported Houthis from reaching the strategically crucial Bab-el-Mandeb Strait. Houthi advances have stopped, and since the killing of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, it is not clear what the goals of the Houthis’ rebellion are beyond mere survival.

A third important conventional military front is eastern Syria, where US and French forces, in cooperation with local allies, hold around 30% of Syrian territory, including the greater part of the country’s oil and gas resources. This territorial holding prevents the operation of a contiguous Iranian land corridor from Iran to the Mediterranean and the border with Israel. It also offers an example of a successful US partnering with a local proxy. Its maintenance is crucial.

REGARDING THE economic front, the US policy of renewed sanctions is already in operation. New sanctions have been imposed in recent days on five Iranian officials suspected of involvement in the Iranian program to provide missiles to the Houthis. The US Treasury Department, meanwhile, imposed sanctions on officials of Iran’s Central Bank in the days following the decision to quit the nuclear deal. The officials were suspected of helping move Revolutionary Guard Corps funds to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Treasury has announced new sanctions on members of Hezbollah’s Shurah Council. Notably, US and UAE officials cooperated in recent days in disrupting a currency exchange network maintained by the Quds Force.

There is more to come. Sanctions are due to be placed on the acquisition of dollar banknotes by Iranian institutions. Penalties for institutions dealing with Iran’s Central Bank and other designated bodies are also forthcoming. All are designed to stretch the Iranians to the limit, producing either retreat or internal unrest.

In the political field, Iraq is now the central arena. The Iranians suffered a setback in the recent elections there. With the 90-day coalition-forming period under way, the issue will be the make up of the new government. The key player here on the pro-US side will be Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis have been quietly growing their involvement in Iraq in recent months. They have pledged $1 billion in loans and $500,000 in export credits for reconstruction following the war against Islamic State. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman hosted Muqtada al-Sadr, the main winner of the elections, in Riyadh last year. Direct flights have been resumed.

The Saudi goal is to revive Iraqi Arab identity as a counterweight to Iran’s sectarian, non-Arab appeal to Iraq’s Shia-Arab majority. The oilrich Basra province is a focus of Saudi activity.

The issue in Iraq will not be the complete expulsion of Iranian influence, but rather to set up a counterweight to the Iranians, again forcing Tehran to spend time and energy on preventing the erosion of its position.

Lastly, it is possible that clandestine activity is underway to connect those in Iran who are opposed to the regime with the expertise and funding of US allies.

Will this project succeed? It appears to derive from an attempt to locate Iran’s weak spots and exploit them. The Iranians, without doubt, will be seeking to develop a counter- strategy along similar lines against the US and its allies.

The region, as a result, is entering a new strategic chapter. The game is afoot.

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Pompeo Vows to ‘Crush’ Iran’s Terror & Nuke Programs

IPT, by John Rossomando  •  

New sanctions are around the corner that could help “crush” Iran’s ability to fund terrorism and its nuclear program, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday in a speech at The Heritage Foundation. Pompeo promised the “strongest sanctions in history.” He listed 12 demands that Iran would need to fulfill to have the sanctions lifted. These demands include an end to Iran’s support for terror; carte blanche inspection of Iranian nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); and ending ballistic missile proliferation.

“We will track down Iranian operatives and their Hizballah proxies operating around the world and we will crush them,” Pompeo said. “Iran will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East.”

On May 8, President Trump announced the end of U.S. participation in the Iran deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). European governments, however, say they plan to remain in the agreement.

Pompeo slammed the Obama administration, which negotiated and pushed for the deal, for failing to listen to critics who argued that releasing approximately $100 billion in frozen assets to Iran would increase its ability to support terrorism.

“Remember, Iran advanced its march across the Middle East during the JCPOA,” Pompeo said. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force chief “Qasem Soleimani has been playing with house money that has become blood money. Wealth created by the West has fueled his campaigns.”

Iran used the released money from the JCPOA to fund the IRGC, the Taliban, Hizballah, Hamas and the Houthis in Yemen, Pompeo said. Iranian backed militias under Soleimani’s leadership control a wide swath of territory between the Iran-Iraq borders all the way to the Mediterranean. Israel recently launched retaliatory strikes on Iranian targets in Syria after Iranian rockets landed in the Golan Heights.

Al-Qaida leaders also continue to be harbored in Iran.

Not surprisingly, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rejected Pompeo’s demands, saying Iran will “continue our path with the support of our nation.”

Last week, the Trump administration sanctioned the IRGC Quds Force and imposed sanctions on the head of Iran’s central bank, which Pompeo said funded Hizballah and other terrorist organizations.

“The Iranian economy is already in free fall. That has to put a crimp in the regime’s capacity to fund surrogates. If the administration follows through there certainly won’t be more money to spread around,” James Carafano, vice president and director of the Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT).

U.K.-based exiled Iranian dissident and author Babak Taghvaee criticized Pompeo’s speech on Twitter for not including human rights as a condition for lifting sanctions.

“Iranians could have helped #US to not only achieve these twelve objectives rather more,” Taghvaee told the IPT.

Other Iranians responded by creating #ThankYouPompeo and #IranRegimeChange hashtags on Twitter.

CAIR Pushes Effort to Block Pompeo Confirmation

CNS News, by Patrick Goodenough, April 20, 2018:

(CNSNews.com) – As the battle over CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s nomination as secretary of state reaches make-or-break, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on Friday plans a joint event with mostly other Muslim groups to urge the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to vote him down on Monday.

Taking part at the news conference at the National Press Club will be representatives from the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Islamic Circle of North America, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, American Muslims for Palestine and National Religious Campaign Against Torture Action Fund.

“CAIR is also calling on all those who value America’s traditions of religious inclusion and respect for diversity to contact members of the U.S. Senate to oppose Pompeo’s confirmation,” said the group, which describes Pompeo as an “Islamophobe.”

CAIR, which calls itself as the nation’s biggest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, was thrilled when Democrats on the Senate panel grilled Pompeo last week over his views on Islam.

In an exchange that drew widespread attention – although not from CAIR – Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) also confronted Pompeo over his opposition to same-sex marriage.

The LGBT issue resonated with several Democrats on the committee, and in their subsequent announcements of their intention to vote against Pompeo it was mentioned among others by Sens. Ed Markey (Mass.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Ben Cardin (Md.), and ranking member Bob Menendez (N.J.)

Other issues cited by Menendez included Pompeo’s statements on Muslims, and he said the nominee “did little to assuage my concerns about the administration’s deafening lack of strategic vision for any of our major global challenges.”

Menendez also complained that Pompeo, at a private meeting, had not disclosed his recent trip to North Korea for talks with Kim Jong-un. President Trump confirmed on Wednesday that Pompeo had made the clandestine trip, after the news was leaked to the Washington Post.

Pompeo’s visit to the reclusive communist nation, in preparation for a planned summit between Kim and Trump, has generally won praise – including from some Democratic senators – but Menendez was not among them.

“Even in my private conversations with him, he didn’t tell me about his visit to North Korea,” Menendez said during an event Wednesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“Now I don’t expect diplomacy to be negotiated out in the open but I do expect for someone who is the nominee to be secretary of state, when he speaks with committee leadership and is asked specific questions about North Korea, to share some insights about such a visit.”

Tight race

With nine of the committee’s ten Democrats having announced their intention to oppose confirmation – Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware has yet to declare – Pompeo’s fate may hang in the hands of Sen. Rand Paul, the libertarian Kentucky Republican.

Paul met with Pompeo this week, at Trump’s request, but has given no indication of a change of mind.

During the April 12 nomination hearing, Paul and Pompeo differed over whether the president has the authority to authorize military strikes in Syria. A day later, the U.S. joined France and Britain in firing missiles at three installations linked to the Assad regime’s chemical weapons program.

In the event Pompeo is short of the needed votes on Monday, options could include a decision to send the nomination to the Senate floor without a favorable vote from the committee; a vote against sending it to the floor at all, thus killing the nomination; or a filibuster by Pompeo opponents to prevent the GOP from bypassing the committee and bringing the nomination to the floor.

With the GOP controlling 51 of the Senate’s 100 seats, a floor vote could see Pompeo confirmed by a narrow margin, after Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota became the first Democrat to announce her support.

In recent times, secretary of state nominees have typically been confirmed by large margins, although Rex Tillerson was an exception. In a 56-43 vote in February last year, Democratic Sens. Heitkamp, Joe Manchin (W.V.) and Mark Warner (Va.), and independent Angus King (Me.) were the only non-Republicans to support him.

Previous nominees in recent administrations were confirmed easily: John Kerry in a 94-3 vote, Hillary Clinton 94-2, Condoleezza Rice 85-13, Madeleine Albright 99-0, while Colin Powell and Warren Christopher were confirmed by unanimous voice vote.

Citing some of those votes, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted Thursday, “What does history tell us? Members of both parties have long believed that U.S. national security is too important to play politics with Secretary of State nominees. #ConfirmPompeo.”

Conservative organizations and individuals advocating Pompeo’s confirmation include former deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, columnist J. Kenneth Blackwell, Forbes editor-in-chief Steve Forbes, Family Research Council, Susan B. Anthony List and Tea Party Patriots.

A range of liberal groups have come out in opposition, including MoveOn.org, Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, CODEPINK, the Sierra Club and the National Iranian American Council, which advocates engagement with the regime in Tehran.

National Security Experts Issue Letter Endorsing Mike Pompeo as the Next U.S. Secretary of State

Center for Security Policy, April 10, 2018:

(Washington, D.C.): Today, 53 national security experts and public practitioners issued a letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker and the committee’s Ranking Member Robert Menendez calling on the U.S. Senate for swiftly endorse President Trump’s choice of Mike Pompeo to be the next U.S. Secretary of State.

The letter’s signatories agree that the wide range of urgent national security threats facing our nation today requires an experienced, highly competent national security leader like Mike Pompeo be confirmed as Secretary of State as soon as possible.  With, among other challenges,  growing tensions in Syria, an upcoming summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and an impending decision on the fate of the nuclear deal with Iran, this is no time for the State Department to be without such a skilled professional at its helm.

The signatories also credit Mike Pompeo for his mastery of the multifaceted threat that Donald Trump promised to defeat in his August 15, 2016 address in Youngstown, Ohio.  Both men recognize this particular danger as ideological in nature, which Mr. Trump correctly noted is called “Sharia” by its adherents, who include “Radical Islamic Terrorists” and “the support networks for Radical Islam in this country.”

Mr. Pompeo’s leadership and management skills from his time in the U.S. Army, the private sector, Congress and as CIA Director are exactly what is needed at the State Department, which is suffering from huge numbers of unfilled positions, low morale and lack of direction.

The letter concludes:

Mike Pompeo is the sort of seasoned, accomplished and energetic national security policy practitioner our nation desperately needs at this juncture in the role of Secretary of State to help President Trump secure our nation from all enemies, foreign and domestic. He enjoys our strong endorsement and we respectfully request that the United States Senate express the same by confirming him at the earliest possible moment.

See the letter with signatories