By David Brunnstrom and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. special envoy for North Korea laid out an extensive list of demands for North Korean denuclearisation on Thursday that is likely to anger Pyongyang, even as President Donald Trump said the date and place for a second summit was set and hailed “tremendous progress” in his dealings with the country.
In a speech at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, envoy Stephen Biegun said North Korea would need to declare all its nuclear and missile programs and warned that Washington had “contingencies” if the diplomatic process failed.
Biegun, in his most detailed public remarks on his approach to North Korea after five months in his role, said Washington would have to have expert access and monitoring mechanisms of nuclear and missile sites and “ultimately ensure removal or destruction of stockpiles of fissile material, weapons, missiles, launchers and other weapons of mass destruction.”
Pyongyang has rejected declaring its weapons programs for decades.
Biegun also said that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un committed during an October visit by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the dismantlement and destruction of plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities.
The information from Biegun goes much further than Pompeo himself did after his trip and further than any public statement by Pyongyang.
While Biegun conceded there was “more work ahead of us than behind us,” Trump appeared upbeat about the prospects for a second summit with Kim, telling reporters in the Oval Office on Thursday that a time and place had been agreed upon and would be announced next week.
He said he was making “tremendous progress” with North Korea. “They very much want the meeting. And I think they really want to do something, and we’ll see.”
Pompeo said on Wednesday that North Korea had agreed that the summit would be held at the end of February and that it would be “some place in Asia.”
Trump and Kim met in Singapore last June in the first summit between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, an event that produced a vague commitment by Kim to work towards the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, where U.S. troops have been stationed in the South since the 1950-53 Korean War.
Pyongyang has yet to take concrete steps in that direction, in Washington’s view, and the director of U.S. national intelligence, Dan Coats, told Congress on Tuesday that it was unlikely to give up all of its nuclear weapons and has continued activity inconsistent with pledges to denuclearize.
The State Department said Biegun will travel to South Korea on Feb. 3 for talks with his North Korean counterpart Kim Hyok Chol “to discuss next steps to advance our objective of the final fully verified denuclearisation of North Korea and steps to make further progress on all the commitments the two leaders made in Singapore.”
North Korea has complained that the United States has done little to reciprocate for the actions it has taken so far to dismantle some weapons facilities. It has repeatedly demanded a lifting of punishing U.S.-led sanctions and has also sought a formal end to the war, as well as security guarantees.
In his speech, Biegun said the United States had told North Korea it was prepared to pursue commitments made in Singapore “simultaneously and in parallel” and had already eased rules on delivery of humanitarian aid to North Korea.
He said he planned to discuss “corresponding measures” Washington was willing to take in return for the dismantlement of North Korea’s enrichment capabilities when he holds talks with his counterpart next week.
Responding to questions after his speech, Biegun said it was correct that the United States would not lift sanctions until North Korean denuclearisation was complete, but added: “We did not say we will not do anything until you do everything.”
Biegun said both he and Trump were convinced it was time to move past 70 years of war and hostility on the Korean Peninsula, but stopped short of suggesting that an end-of-war declaration North Korea has been seeking could be a summit outcome.
However, he added: “If we are doing the right thing on nuclear weapons, it makes it a lot more conceivable that there would be a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.”
Biegun said that while he sometimes imagined a “perfect outcome moment, where the last nuclear weapons leave North Korea, the sanctions are lifted, the flag goes up at the embassy, and the treaty is signed at the same hour,” he realized that was an ideal and added: “These things are going to move haltingly along different courses.”
Biegun admitted that the United States and North Korea did not have an agreed definition of denuclearisation, but was blunt about U.S. expectations and said Trump had made clear he expected “significant and verifiable progress on denuclearisation” to emerge from the next summit.
“Before the process of denuclearisation can be final, we must have a complete understanding of the full extent of the North Korean WMD and missile programs through a comprehensive declaration,” Biegun said in his speech.
Biegun said all these details would have to be addressed in working-level negotiations if the conditions were to be put in place “to fundamentally transform the U.S.-North Korean relations and establish peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
He pledged that once North Korea was denuclearised the United States was prepared to explore with North Korea and other countries the best way to mobilise investment in the country.
Biegun said the past 25 years of talks had shown that the possibility of failure was great, and stressed: “We need to have contingencies if the diplomatic process fails – which we do.”
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; writing by David Brunnstrom and Makini Brice; editing by Sonya Hepinstall, James Dalgleish and Grant McCool)