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Pompeo Meets With North Koreans Over Nuclear Program


America's top diplomat has wrapped up two days of talks in Pyongyang, looking for a more detailed agreement on how North Korea will end its nuclear weapons program. But just hours after Secretary of State [unclear] Pompeo's plane left North Korea, the North Koreans were calling the conversations regrettable. NPR's Elise Hu covers the region for us, and she joins us now from Seoul. Hi, Elise.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Hey there.

WERTHEIMER: So could you just bring us up to speed - what came out of these talks in Pyongyang?

HU: Well, first, I'll give you Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's perspective. He called the talks productive and claimed that he made progress on central issues. He did not meet with Kim Jong Un this time or secure any breakthroughs on trying to get North Korea to draw down its nuclear program, but still, while his plane was on the tarmac before leaving Pyongyang, Pompeo spoke with reporters and was sounding positive.


MIKE POMPEO: We talked about what the North Koreans are continuing to do and how it's the case - we can get our arms around achieving what Chairman Kim and President Trump both agreed to, which was the complete denuclearization of North Korea.

HU: And now for North Korea's perspective. So after Pompeo got to Tokyo, which is where he is now, North Korea's Foreign Ministry called the U.S. attitude to the talks regrettable, and it claimed that the U.S. made unilateral demands for denuclearization, also suggested that its commitment to denuclearization - the North Korean one - could actually falter after the U.S. demands in this particular round of talks.

WERTHEIMER: So where does this new disagreement between the two sides leave the deal struck between President Trump and Kim Jong Un last month?

HU: Well, for now, it's in the same place because this just happened. But, unless - you know, things could change, right? Because in the coming days one side or the other could decide to walk away from diplomacy or try another tack. But we should remember that it is a common North Korean negotiating tactic to claim that it's being misunderstood or being treated unfairly. And to be fair to North Korea, it hasn't done anything to violate that Singapore deal, mainly because that Singapore deal was so broad and generalized when it came to the nuclear issue that it left a lot of room for the two sides to interpret their own definitions. And that's the problem that we're seeing emerge right now.

WERTHEIMER: President Trump cites a lack of missile and nuclear tests since November as evidence that progress is being made. Do we know how seriously the North is really taking these talks?

HU: We don't. We don't know for sure whether North Korea is substantively committed to that top-line goal of denuclearization. U.S. intelligence reports that have leaked in the recent week indicate that North Korea does not intend to surrender its weapons stockpile. And there's also commercial satellite imagery showing ongoing construction at a missile facility after the June summit. So that construction will likely continue unless Pyongyang orders it to end. Bottom line, there's a lot of distrust because the U.S. - from the U.S. perspective - North Korea hasn't held up their end of previous agreements to denuclearize, and those previous agreements with the U.S. were a lot more detailed than this more recent Singapore Trump deal.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Seoul correspondent, Elise Hu, thank you.

HU: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elise Hu is a host-at-large based at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Previously, she explored the future with her video series, Future You with Elise Hu, and served as the founding bureau chief and International Correspondent for NPR's Seoul office. She was based in Seoul for nearly four years, responsible for the network's coverage of both Koreas and Japan, and filed from a dozen countries across Asia.
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