Pompeo hails ‘significant’ North Korea progress

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Pyongyang on Sunday. (Korea Central News Agency via Reuters)
Updated 09 October 2018
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Pompeo hails ‘significant’ North Korea progress

  • Both sides ‘pretty close’ to agreeing details for a second summit between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump
  • The North expressed its willingness to close the Yongbyon nuclear site if Washington took corresponding action

SEOUL/WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday hailed “significant progress” in talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the weekend and said the sides were “pretty close” to agreeing details for a second summit between Kim and President Donald Trump.
However, experts questioned what Pompeo had achieved on Sunday on his fourth visit to Pyongyang this year. They said the North Korean leader appeared simply to be repackaging and dragging out past pledges.
Pompeo told reporters Kim had said he was ready to allow international inspectors into North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear testing site and the Sohae missile engine test facility as soon as the two sides agreed on logistics.
However, Pompeo declined to say whether there had been any movement on North Korea allowing inspectors to visit its Yongbyon site, which produces fuel for nuclear weapons, as the US has sought. North Korea has said it could permanently close Yongbyon if Washington took “corresponding measures,” of which there has so far been no sign.
In May, North Korea blew up tunnels at Punggye-ri and called this proof of its commitment to end nuclear testing, but a senior White House official accused Pyongyang at the time of breaking a promise to allow experts to witness dismantlement of the site, which meant there was no one there to verify what actually occurred.
Pompeo did not say when inspectors would be allowed to Punggye-ri, and the State Department did not respond when asked if they would be Americans or others from international nuclear bodies.
“There’s a lot of logistics that will be required to execute that,” Pompeo told a news briefing in Seoul before leaving for Beijing, where the frosty tone of talks will raise worries about China’s willingness help maintain a tough US-led sanctions regime on North Korea.
Experts said the offer on inspections amounted to dressing up of an old, unfulfilled pledge as a new concession.
“The real takeaway from this Punggye-ri pledge is that Kim has mastered the art of milking a single cosmetic concession for months to burn clock,” Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said on Twitter.
“We are still talking about Punggye-ri and Sohae 6 months after he pledged to dismantle them. Brilliantly selling the same horse twice.”
Even so, Pompeo said both sides were “pretty close” to agreement on the details of a second summit, which Kim proposed to US President Donald Trump in a letter last month.
“Both the leaders believe there’s real progress that can be made, substantive progress that can be made at the next summit,” Pompeo said.
Trump and Kim held a historic first summit in Singapore on June 12 at which Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. However, his actions have fallen short of Washington’s demands for a complete inventory of its weapons and facilities and irreversible steps to give up its arsenal.
Stephen Biegun, the US special representative for North Korea who accompanied Pompeo to Pyongyang, said he offered to meet his counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, “as soon as possible” and they were in discussion over time and place.
Pompeo told South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Sunday his latest trip to Pyongyang was “another step forward” to denuclearization, but there were “many steps along the way.”
At last month’s inter-Korean summit, the North expressed its willingness to close Yongbyon if Washington took corresponding action, which Moon said would include a declaration of an end to the 1950-53 Korean War.
Moon also said the North would “permanently dismantle” Sohae missile engine testing site in the presence of experts from “concerned countries.”
Pyongyang’s failure to keep its pledge to allow international inspections at Punggye-ri in May fanned criticism that the move could easily be reversed.
In July, satellite imagery indicated it had begun dismantling the engine test site, but also without allowing outside verification. The 38 North project said last week that no dismantling activity had been spotted since August 3.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Kim had invited inspectors to visit Punggye-ri to confirm it had been irreversibly dismantled.
Sceptics of Trump administration policy said it was difficult to see what Pompeo had achieved.
“Did Mike Pompeo go all the way to Pyongyang for party planning purposes?” Daniel Russel, the chief US diplomat for East Asia until last year, said on NBC. “Is this just to set up a yet another summit without a clear understanding of what that’s going to generate?”


US border chief quits amid outcry over child detainees

Updated 38 min 48 sec ago
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US border chief quits amid outcry over child detainees

  • John Sanders’ departure coincides with the revelation of unsanitary detention conditions for children at an overcrowded Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas
  • Arrivals of undocumented migrants at the southern US border have surged in recent months, with 144,000 people taken into custody in May alone

WASHINGTON: The acting commissioner of the US Customs and Border Protection agency announced his resignation on Tuesday amid a public outcry over alarming detention conditions of migrant children in Texas.
John Sanders, appointed to the post just two months ago, said in a letter obtained by several US media outlets that he planned to step down as acting CBP chief on July 5.
Sanders’ departure coincides with the revelation of unsanitary detention conditions for children at an overcrowded Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas, a sign of the increasing strain on resources due to soaring numbers of arrests at the US-Mexico border.
The conditions at the center in Clint were described by a team of lawyers, doctors and others who visited the facility about 20 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of El Paso.
Nearly 250 children were transferred out of Clint on Monday but a CBP official said Tuesday that some 100 were being sent back there.
“The three-year old before me had matted hair, a hacking cough, muddy pants, and eyes that fluttered closed with fatigue,” wrote Clara Long, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who accompanied the team.
“His only caretaker for the last three weeks in a United States Border Patrol chain-link cage and then a cell... his 11-year old brother,” Long said.
“Children at Clint told us they don’t have regular access to showers or clean clothes, with some saying they hadn’t been allowed to bathe over periods of weeks and don’t have regular access to soap,” she said.
Speaking on CNN on Tuesday, Long said “the situation is dire.”
“And it’s not just Clint,” she said.
Sanders has led CBP since April, when President Donald Trump tapped CBP chief Kevin McAleenan to replace Kirstjen Nielsen as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
In a message to staff, Sanders did not give a specific reason for quitting and officials told The Washington Post and The New York Times it was not clear if his resignation was directly related to the handling of underage migrants at the border.
Trump told reporters Tuesday he did not ask Sanders to step down but “knew there were going to be changes there.”
US law requires unaccompanied minors to be returned to their parents or transferred to Health and Human Services facilities within 72 hours.
But many of the children held by the Border Patrol in Clint had been there for three or four weeks, according to the team which visited the facility on June 17.
“The Border Patrol claims that high numbers of border arrivals are causing these delays as they wait for space to open up in the somewhat more child-friendly detention centers and shelters,” said HRW’s Long.
Arrivals of undocumented migrants at the southern US border have surged in recent months, with 144,000 people taken into custody in May alone. CBP deputy commissioner Robert Perez said more than 100,000 were children and families.
“Everybody understands it is not the Border Patrol’s job to take care of children,” said Warren Binford, a Willamette University law professor who visited the Clint facility.
“They are as upset as we are that these children are being put into their care because they don’t have the ability to care for them,” Binford said on MSNBC.
“These children need to be with their families.”
Perez, the CBP deputy commissioner, made the same complaint recently at a panel discussion in Washington.
“We are a border security agency now being called upon to deal with things we’re not designed for,” Perez said.
Trump, asked about conditions at the detention centers, said he was “very concerned” and urged Democrats to approve $4.5 billion in emergency humanitarian funding for the southwest border.
He said “bad people” were using children to take advantage of lax US immigration laws. “It’s a form of slavery what they’re doing to young children,” he said.
Trump also said Mexico “for the first time in 50 years is helping us” prevent border-crossing.
“So I just want to thank Mexico,” said the US leader, who had threatened steep tariffs on Mexican goods unless the government did more to slow migration.
After a week of tense negotiations, Mexico agreed to reinforce its southern border with 6,000 National Guardsmen and expand its policy of taking back migrants while the US processes their asylum claims. Mexico has also deployed 15,000 troops to the US border.
“They’ve done a great job,” said Trump. “Hopefully they can keep it up.”