Capping a week of neck-wrenching U-turns by the president of the United States after his pro-Russia speech in Helsinki on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with the 15-member United Nations Security Council in New York on July 20 — to discuss North Korea.
Pompeo and Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, also met with António Guterres, the secretary-general, after their session with the Council.
“The main reason I came here today was to meet with members of the UN Security Council – South Korea and Japan as well – to convey details of my work on the trip to North Korea earlier this month and the progress that was made there,” Pompeo told the media assembled in a UN lobby after his meetings with the Council and with Guterres. “I also had the opportunity to meet with UN Secretary-General Guterres to discuss the topic and other topics as well.”
The first meeting was held privately at the South Korean mission to the UN, with Kyung-wha Kang, the country’s foreign minister, present as well. She had flown to New York for the occasion and to meet with Guterres. (She is rumored to be a candidate for the UN high commissioner for human rights, which is to be vacated by Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, a Jordanian diplomat, in August.)
The meeting at the South Korean mission with Pompeo appeared to emphasize the role that South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, had in brokering the Singapore Summit. The summit meeting in June brought together President Trump and Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, for the first time.
An agreement signed by Trump and Kim committed the US and North Korea to jointly “build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula” and “to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
Pompeo’s meeting with Security Council members, 10 of whom are elected and five of them permanent (Britain, China, France, Russia and the US), may have also helped assuage tensions that ensued from Trump’s recent visit to Europe, where he later called it America’s “foe,” among other disturbing remarks about Western allies.
Of the 10 current elected Council members, three are European: Netherlands, Poland and Sweden; three are African: Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia and Ivory Coast (Trump earlier this year called Africa a “shithole”); and the remaining members are Bolivia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait and Peru.
The meeting with the Council was also attended by Japan’s ambassador to the UN, Koro Bessho. Pompeo was chauffeured across the street from the US mission to the UN into an underground parking lot accessible to the Korean building to avoid the media. (He did not appear to have met any diplomats from North Korea.)
Karel van Oosterom, the Dutch ambassador to the UN and chair of the Security Council sanctions committee on North Korea, told the media after the meeting that there were two messages that Pompeo and Kang conveyed: “their intentions to continue the process to achieve complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”; and “the need for continued full implementation of the sanctions to keep up the pressure on the regime in Pyongyang to deliver on denuclearization.”
A day earlier, China and Russia blocked the US from trying to tighten the sanctions screws further on North Korea — by blocking all refined petroleum imports to North Korea — via the Council.
“Russia is closely examining the US request and is seeking additional information on every single case of ‘illegal’ transfer of petroleum to the DPRK claimed by the US,” wrote Dmitry Polyanskiy, the deputy ambassador for the Russian mission to the UN, on Twitter. “We are also seeking the explanation of methodology used in making calculation of ‘illegally’ exported petroleum.”
Pompeo and Haley emerged from their 40-minute conference with Guterres to speak to the media throng waiting in the lobby of the UN. Pompeo’s speech — and Haley’s comments — echoed each other on North Korea. In questions from reporters, Putin’s possible visit to Washington, D.C., also came up. (Pompeo, who speaks rapidly, referred at one point to Putin as “Tutin.”) He did not mention that Kim expects the US to do its share of the Kim-Trump agreement: fully denuclearize its presence in the Korean Peninsula.
“The countries of the Security Council are united on the need for final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea, as agreed to by Chairman Kim,” Pompeo said to the media, no longer referring to the State Department’s original language on the topic as “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization,” or “CVID.”
“Strict enforcement of sanctions is critical to our achieving this goal,” he said. “Members of the UN Security Council, and by extension all UN member-states, have unanimously agreed to fully enforce sanctions on North Korea, and we expect them to continue to honor those commitments. When sanctions are not enforced, the prospects for the successful denuclearization are diminished.
“Right now, North Korea is illegally smuggling petroleum products into the country at a level that far exceeds the quotas established by the United Nations. These illegal ship-to-ship transfers are the most prominent means by which this is happening.”
Pompeo also suggested a picture in which Kim would appear at the UN “not as a pariah, but as a friend.” (Kim is rumored to be attending the annual UN General Assembly session in September, when the US happens to hold the rotating presidency of the Security Council.)
“Trump remains upbeat about the prospects of denuclearization of North Korea,” Pompeo went on. “So do I, as progress is happening. . . . “
Haley, in her comments, noted that “the best way we can support those talks [of denuclearization] is to not loosen the sanctions. And what we have been seeing is certain countries wanting to do waivers, certain countries saying, Let’s lift sanctions, certain countries wanting to do more.”
In addition, Pompeo was asked by a reporter about the possibility of Putin visiting Washington, saying: “Yeah, I’m happy that the two leaders of two very important countries are continuing to meet. If that meeting takes place in Washington, I think it’s all to the good.”
Pompeo described the steps Kim must take to prove he will denuclearize: “Chairman Kim told not only President Trump, but President Moon that he was prepared to denuclearize. The scope and scale of that is agreed to. The North Koreans understand what that means. There’s no mistake about what the scope of denuclearization looks like.”
To support a free press and democracy, please donate to PassBlue, a nonprofit journalism site.
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts?
Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, she has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and near Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working in New York at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.