US Vice President Mike Pence warned North Korea that it could end up like Libya if it fails to make a nuclear deal with Washington.
“There was some talk about the Libyan model last week, and you know, as the President made clear, this will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal,” Pence said Monday.
When it was noted that the comparison could be interpreted as a threat, Pence told Fox News: “Well, I think it’s more of a fact.”
Previous comments, by President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, that the administration was looking at Libya as a potential example for North Korea to follow, provoked alarm in Pyongyang.
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi agreed to abandon his nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief in the early 2000s. Within years, Gadhafi was overthrown and killed by rebels backed by Washington. North Korea has suggested multiple times in the past that its perceived need for a strong nuclear deterrent is based on US military aggression in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Bolton’s comments, a North Korean official told state media, were indicative of “an awfully sinister move to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq which had been collapsed due to yielding the whole of their countries to big powers.”
The White House initially downplayed Bolton’s comments – White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said last week that “there’s not a cookie cutter model on how this would work.”
“This is the President Trump model. He’s going to run this the way he sees fit. We’re 100% confident, as we’ve said many times before, as I’m sure you’re all aware, he’s the best negotiator and we’re very confident on that front,” she added.
On Monday, Pence said that under Trump’s leadership, the US “is not going to tolerate the regime in North Korea possessing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles that threaten the United States and our allies.”
Trump is scheduled to sit down with Kim in Singapore in June, however, in recent weeks North Korea has threatened to cancel the talks if it is pushed “into a corner” regarding nuclear disarmament.
“The reality is that we hope for a peaceable solution,” Pence said. “The President remains open to a summit taking place, and will continue to pursue that path even while we stand strong on the objective of denuclearization and the extreme pressure campaign that’s underway today.”
Shoring up the Singapore summit will be top of the agenda for South Korean President Moon Jae-in Tuesday, when he meets with Trump in Washington.
Moon has been the main driver of diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang, both by Seoul and Washington. Analysts said this was due to a concern over the potential for Trump to launch a military attack against North Korea which could plunge the Peninsula into war.
“(Moon is) very concerned about the possibility of backsliding into ‘fire and fury’,” said Robert Kelly, a professor of political science at South Korea’s Pusan National University, adding the South Korean leader will be trying to “keep Trump tied to the diplomatic track.”
The first big test of where things are will come this week, when North Korea is due to destroy the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, in full view of international journalists. Calling off that event, praised by Trump as a show of good faith, would be a major blow to ongoing negotiations.
So far, signs seem positive that the plans will go ahead: Journalists, including a CNN crew, left Beijing for the North Korean city of Wonsan Tuesday, from where they will head by train to the nuclear test site.
Sophie Tatum reported from Washington, James Griffiths reported from Hong Kong. CNN’s Veronica Stracqualursi and Joshua Berlinger contributed to this report.