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As Trump declares summit a success, Pompeo begins negotiating the details

Tracy Wilkinson and Eli Stokols, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- As President Donald Trump declared his summit with Kim Jong Un a smashing success, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo quickly began the hard part: negotiating the complex details for a deal to eliminate North Korea's nuclear threat.

Pompeo went straight to Seoul after the summit in Singapore to confer Wednesday with South Korean allies and top U.S. military commanders in the region. He said that dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal could take 2 1/2 years, the most concrete timeframe yet ascribed to what would undoubtedly be a long process.

Pompeo also had to explain to both the allies and American commanders the unexpected announcement from Trump in Singapore that he is halting annual joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises, which the president described as provocative war games, using the lexicon of North Korea and China. Allies, including in Japan, were blindsided by the decision, which triggered sharp criticism from Congress, including Republicans, and from former and current U.S. officials.

Pompeo met with Gen. Vincent Brooks, the top U.S. commander in South Korea, in what was billed as a brief greeting but stretched into nearly an hourlong closed-door discussion.

On Thursday, he is to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a principal force behind arranging the Singapore summit, and with the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan. Later he continues to Beijing, where Chinese officials are thought to be extremely pleased with the summit results, but vexed by ongoing trade disputes with Washington.

Complicating Pompeo's diplomatic work, Trump, upon his predawn arrival in Washington from Singapore, made the kind of "mission accomplished" proclamation that often comes back to haunt leaders. He declared on Twitter that "there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea."

"A long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office," he added.

"This is absolutely untrue," said Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat and senior official in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. "North Korea is still a nuclear threat to the U.S., South Korea and Japan. Kim has not dismantled any part of his nuclear apparatus."

Trump's boast is at best premature. For now, Kim is likely to remain restrained about further nuclear and ballistic-missile testing. Yet despite Trump and Kim's step away from what seemed last year to be the brink of nuclear war -- tensions inflamed in part by Trump's bellicose tweets and name-calling -- Kim has as many nuclear warheads now as he had last week, and more than he had when Trump took office.

Another wrinkle: Official North Korean media are providing a different interpretation of what happened in Singapore.

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