WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday he has directed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to delay a planned trip to North Korea, citing insufficient progress on denuclearization.
The surprise announcement appeared to mark a concession by the president to domestic and international concerns that his prior claims of world-altering progress on the peninsula had been strikingly premature.
“I have asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to go to North Korea, at this time, because I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Trump tweeted Friday, barely two months after his June meeting with the North’s Kim Jong Un in Singapore.
Trump’s comment followed a report issued Monday by the International Atomic Energy Agency outlining “grave concern” about the North’s nuclear program. It came a day after Pompeo appointed Stephen Biegun, a senior executive with the Ford Motor Co., to be his special envoy for North Korea and said he and Biegun would visit next week.
The State Department never confirmed details of the trip, but it had been expected that Pompeo would be in Pyongyang for at least several hours Monday, according to several diplomatic sources familiar with the plan.
White House officials did not immediately comment on what prompted Trump to call off Pompeo’s trip. The State Department had no immediate comment on the matter and referred questions to the White House.
Trump laid unspecified blame on China, saying “I do not believe” China is helping with the process of denuclearization “because of our much tougher Trading stance.” The U.S. and China have been locked in a trade dispute for months, with each side ratcheting up tariffs on imports from the other country in what may be the opening salvos of a trade war.
China is the North’s leading trade partner, and is widely believed to hold the greatest sway over the North Korean government.
Trump tweeted that “Pompeo looks forward to going to North Korea in the near future, most likely after our Trading relationship with China is resolved.” He added: “In the meantime I would like to send my warmest regards and respect to Chairman Kim. I look forward to seeing him soon!”
After more a year of escalating tensions defined by nuclear and missile tests, new sanctions and “fire and fury” rhetoric, Trump made history meeting Kim earlier this year. In the run-up to the summit both nations engaged in hard-nosed negotiation, with Trump publically calling off the meeting in an effort to push Kim to agree to nuclear concessions. During the summit, the pair signed a vague joint statement in which the North agreed to denuclearize, but which left nearly all details undefined.
“There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” Trump declared on Twitter after the meeting.
“Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea. President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem,” he added. “No longer – sleep well tonight!”
Trump had kept up the positive tone as recently as Tuesday at a campaign rally in West Virginia. There Trump maintained “we’re doing well with North Korea.”
“There’s been no missile launches. There’s been no rocket launches,” he added.
At the same rally, Trump seemed to take a different tone too on China, saying he had withheld some criticism of China because “I wanted them to help us with North Korea and they have.”