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Trump administration: No concessions to North Korea in talks

Trump administration officials and senators from both parties on March 11 commented on President Trump’s potential meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Trump administration officials said Sunday that the United States had made no concessions to the North Korean regime in exchange for what would be a historic meeting between President Trump and the reclusive nation’s leader, Kim Jong Un.

But the White House also left open the possibility that the talks, which South Korean officials have said would happen by the end of May, could ultimately not occur — particularly if North Korea conducts nuclear or missile tests in coming weeks.

“There’s the possibility,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said on ABC News’s “This Week” of the prospects of the talks falling through. “If it does, it’s the North Koreans’ fault. They have not lived up to the promises that they made.” 

The conditions that Trump set, according to administration officials: Kim would halt nuclear or missile testing until the talks occur and allow joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States to proceed. The North Korean regime has also committed to saying “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization” is on the table, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Sunday.

“These are real achievements. These are conditions that the North Korean regime has never submitted to in exchange for conversations,” Pompeo said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Never before have we had the North Koreans in a position where their economy was at such risk and where their leadership was under such pressure that they would begin conversations on the terms that Kim Jong Un has conceded to.” 

Pompeo said the administration had given Kim “nothing” in exchange for Trump agreeing to meet with him and added that “while these negotiations are going on, there will be no concessions made.” 

Pompeo, who has built a bond with Trump in part by reliably praising the president in public, implied that Trump’s often personal attacks on Kim were among those pressure points, saying on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” that U.S. intelligence officials had briefed Trump on how Kim “might react and how North Korea might respond.” 

But it is hard to differentiate the way Trump has treated Kim on Twitter — referring to him derisively as “Little Rocket Man,” for example — from the way he mocks most adversaries, including the news media and political opponents. 

The White House stunned Washington with its surprise announcement Thursday that the administration had accepted overtures from Kim to meet directly with Trump — a statement that Trump himself teased with an impromptu visit to the briefing room. No sitting U.S. president has met directly with the leader of North Korea, which wants to be legitimized on the world stage, particularly alongside a global superpower such as the United States. 

No specific date or location has been announced for the Trump-Kim discussions, and administration officials downplayed the significance of where the talks would be held. 

“President Trump isn’t doing this for theater. He’s going to solve a problem,” Pompeo said. “What’s most important is what’s discussed and the clarity and the strength and resolve of this president and this administration to achieve the outcome that Americans so desperately deserve.” 

Shah said no location was “being ruled out” for the discussions, although he said the prospect of Trump heading to North Korea was not “highly likely.”

“We don’t have an announcement right now, but we have accepted this offer, and we hope that it can be the part of an important breakthrough,” Shah said. 

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on NBC News’s “Meet the Press” that Trump will demand that Kim dismantle his nuclear weapons program.

“That’s the objective, and that’s what we’re going to accomplish,” Mnuchin said. And he dismissed the unidentified Trump officials in a New York Times report who assigned less-than-even odds of the meeting actually happening. “I would expect the meeting goes forward. I don’t know why anybody would be handicapping this at 50 percent,” he said.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have urged the administration to remain skeptical of Kim’s motivation to talk, although congressional Republicans credited Trump for a pressure campaign against Pyongyang that brought the regime to the discussions. 

Other lawmakers remain unconvinced that Kim is prepared to get rid of his nuclear weapons and are questioning what kind of advance work has been conducted by diplomats. 

“The important thing is the diplomatic work that has to go in before such a meeting,” Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), a prominent Republican critic of Trump and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on “Meet the Press.” “A meeting like that would be kind of an afterthought after things are negotiated. Here it looks as if, you know, that’s kind of the opening gambit.” 

Flake added, “That’s a little worrisome.” 

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who leads a Senate panel on East Asia policy, said he needs more details about how those “concrete, verifiable steps toward denuclearization” would be reached. 

“I’ve talked a lot about the diplomatic runway, the length we have left on the diplomatic runway,” Gardner said on “Face the Nation.” “We have to have those steps, those real concrete steps, before this meeting occurs, because after this meeting, there’s going to be very little left of that diplomatic runway.” 

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said the Trump administration needs to be wary of North Korea’s history of broken promises in nuclear disarmament talks and should “ratchet up the sanctions against North Korea until they actually do, in a verifiable fashion, denuclearize.”

“Let’s not be snookered again,” Johnson said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Tory Newmyer and Greg Miller contributed to this report.