US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with South Korea's President Moon Jae-in at the Blue House in Seoul on June 14, 2018. Photo: Reuters/Kim Hong-ji/Pool

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in Seoul on Thursday that “complete, verifiable and irreversible” disarmament of North Korea remains Washington’s goal and that sanctions will remain in place, but admitted that implementing the deal reached in Singapore on Tuesday will be difficult.

Pompeo was speaking at a press conference in Seoul with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.

The former CIA director had flown to Seoul from Singapore, to give a “read-back” of the summit to his counterparts and to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a key enabler of the meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un two days prior.

Pompeo, who made two trips to Pyongyang, pre-summit and who was a key architect of the North Korea-US summit, appeared keen to defend the declaration signed by the two parties.

“We believe that Chairman Kim Jong-un understands the urgency of the timing of completing this denuclearization and understands we must do this quickly,” Pompeo said, according to South Korea’s Yonhap newswire. “And the sanctions relief cannot take place until such time as we have demonstrated that North Korea has been completely denuclearized.”

There has been harsh criticism from analysts across the region and across the world of the declaration, which, while wide ranging, is entirely devoid of concrete commitments, timelines or even details about North Korean denuclearization.

Some have even called the summit a win for Kim, who was offered what are seen as two key concessions: the end of joint South Korea-US military drills and the use of the preferred North Korean, rather  than US term, for the denuclearization process.

The US term “complete, verifiable and irreversible disarmament,” or CVID, does not appear in the declaration. Instead, the document uses the preferred North Korean term, “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” That term could encompass not just North Korean atomic arms, but also nuclear-capable US forces across the region, or even the world.

Still, Pompeo made clear that “verification is central” to reshaping the bilateral relationship, Yonhap reported.

As per Tuesday’s declaration, Pompeo is the key official on the US side charged with implementing the broad-ranging, but vague agreement signed by Kim and Trump.

That deal will be implemented with conditions and with “eyes open,” Pompeo said. He added that trilateral cooperation among Seoul, Tokyo and Washington would be crucial, but acknowledged that the process ahead is “not an easy one.”

Following the consultations with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, Pompeo was heading to China on a similar mission later on Thursday.

South Korea upbeat; military talks underway

Earlier in the day, a beaming President Moon had welcomed Pompeo to his official residence, the Blue House in Seoul, and told him: “There are many different views on the outcome of that summit, but what is most important is the fact that it has allowed the entire world, including American, Japanese and Chinese people, to escape from threats of a nuclear war and long-range missiles,” Yonhap reported.

Speaking at the press conference, Foreign Minister Kang said the South Korea-US alliance is “as robust as ever” and Seoul expects “no daylight” in cooperative moves.

There was considerable surprise across the region when Trump revealed, in a press conference, that he had agreed with Kim to end annual military exercises jointly conducted by South Korea and the US, which the US president characterized as “expensive” and “provocative.”

Reportedly, neither Seoul nor US Forces Korea had been informed in advance of the cancellation of the drills – a long-standing North Korean demand. The annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian joint exercise is scheduled for August.

Even so, the liberal Moon looks unlikely to – and indeed, has not so far – criticize Trump’s decision.

Also on Thursday, South and North Korea held their first high-level military talks since 2007, discussing ways to ease cross-border tensions. The closed-door meeting of general-level officers, which took place in the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, started at 10am.

The agenda was expected to include the restoration of a cross-border military communication line; regularizing military talks; and establishing a hotline between military leaders. The recovery of military remains inside the DMZ may also be on the table, Yonhap reported.

It is not known if the issue of the South Korea-US drills was to be raised.

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