Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested on Thursday new sanctions could be in the works for North Korea, even as he expressed hope the country would return to the negotiating table for direct talks following President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel the summit with Kim Jong Un that had been due to take place next month in Singapore.
“My sense was that we hadn’t taken much of a pause,” Pompeo told lawmakers of the administration’s so-called “pressure campaign” to put economic pressure on the regime in Pyongyang. He specifically cited efforts the US was taking to get other countries to expel North Korean guest workers and intercept illicit transfers of sanctioned materials.
“So I think we have been continuing that even up through today, as we were contemplating the June 12th summit,” said Pompeo, adding he was “sure there are additional sanctions that we will seek to put in place.”
Pompeo testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just minutes after the White House said Trump was canceling the summit.
At the start of the hearing, Pompeo read a letter from Trump to Kim, in which the President said he had been “very much looking forward” to the summit, but felt it was “inappropriate” to hold it in light of what he called “tremendous anger and open hostility” from the North Korean government.
While Trump was the one to cancel the meeting, he told Kim: “If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write.”
Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, suggested to Pompeo that this was “an effort here to create alternative facts in which North Korea walked away,” and questioned the Trump administration’s overall approach to North Korea.
Pompeo, who traveled to North Korea and met with Kim Jong Un earlier this month, took issue with that characterization and suggested the North Koreans had been unresponsive in recent days.
“We got a lot of dial tones,” he said.
Earlier in his testimony, Pompeo said the administration was working to chart a “path forward” and continue its pressure campaign, but he expressed hope that Kim would ultimately re-engage with the United States.
“I hope we are able to quickly get back to that place, but ultimately Chairman Kim will have that decision to make for himself,” said Pompeo. “As the President said, we welcome their call, their outreach, to head back down that path.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, asked Pompeo to share insights into the administration’s next steps, prompting him to say that “in some ways, it’s situation normal.”
“The pressure campaign continues,” he added.
Pompeo told lawmakers he was clear about the United States’ policy objectives in his recent conversations with Kim, who “demonstrated an enormous capacity to lead his country and his team.”
Trump withdrew from the summit after a North Korean vice minister of foreign affairs slammed Vice President Mike Pence as a “political dummy,” the latest in a string of harshly worded statements from Pyongyang.
Earlier in the week, Pence had warned that North Korea could end up like Libya if its leaders didn’t negotiate a nuclear deal with Washington, raising a comparison that has irked the regime.
While administration officials, including Pompeo, say the so-called “Libya model” refers to their desire to achieve a quick nuclear disarmament akin to what was reached with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in the early 2000s, the administration’s critics say it’s a counterproductive specter to raise. That’s because Gadhafi was overthrown in a US-backed military campaign in 2011 and ultimately executed by rebels – a prospect Kim hopes to avoid.