Briefing on Secretary Pompeo's Meeting With Vice Chairman Kim Yong-chol

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
New York City
May 30, 2018


MODERATOR: Okay, [Senior State Department Official]. So [Senior State Department Official] will give you guys a little background. [Senior State Department Official], go right ahead.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You want to – why don’t we just fire away? Go ahead and start (inaudible).

QUESTION: What’s the --

QUESTION: Well – so we have these (inaudible) trying to get at for like two weeks now (inaudible). We have these three concentric circles (inaudible). What is this – what is this (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The President’s point on North Korea policy is Secretary of State Pompeo. Previously it was CIA Director Pompeo. He is the President’s point person. In the DMZ area, we have a team led by Ambassador Sung Kim. They’re working on trying to see if we can come to an agreement on the content of a possible meeting in Singapore. And then we’ve got a team in Singapore. They’re working on (inaudible) the logistics (inaudible).

QUESTION: Does that mean like the shape of the table, who walks in first?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, it’s everything from (inaudible) – yeah, it’s everything from (inaudible) to protocol issues and --

QUESTION: So just --

QUESTION: And what – but then, lastly, what is this team (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Kim Yong-chol is Kim Jong-un’s point person on (inaudible). I’m sorry, Kim Yong-chol is Kim Jong-un’s point person (inaudible). So the two top dogs on each side are meeting to see what needs to be done in the two weeks (inaudible) for the possibility of a summit.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) when you think of (inaudible), what about denuclearization (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I’m not going to go into the details. The Secretary’s been very clear and the President’s been very clear. I think in all of our (inaudible) messaging we’ve been clear that what we’re looking for is CVID – complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization. And in order for a summit to be successful, the North Koreans have to do things that they have not done before.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s where we’re beginning a negotiation. And for obvious reasons, I can’t go into the details. (Inaudible) you need some diplomatic space in order to work (inaudible).

QUESTION: Can you just go into (inaudible) what kind of food did they have tonight, like some of the details about what are they doing? Are they having Iowa Scotch?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Islay. Islay. (Inaudible.) Islay. (Inaudible) your Scotch.

QUESTION: What --

QUESTION: So can you say even (inaudible) those little details (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Well, look --

MODERATOR: Sorry. My kids are Facetiming me.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- half of diplomacy is getting to know who you’re talking to. This is the third time that Secretary Pompeo has met with (inaudible). It’s the first time Vice Chairman Kim has (inaudible) trying to get to know each other.

QUESTION: It’s his first time?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s his first time to come to the States. He’s trying to get to know (inaudible).

QUESTION: But with so little time before this (inaudible) summit happens, during these meetings with Pompeo, are you expecting the North Koreans to agree to concrete things that you already have laid out?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, between now and if we’re going to have a summit, they’re going to have to make clear what they’re willing to do.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That decision is 100 percent in the hands of the President, and the President can make a fly or no fly decision (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Inaudible) wants to see now here (inaudible) is if the gaps between your definition of (inaudible) denuclearization and theirs is reachable by June 12th?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We want to see if we have the makings of a successful summit.

QUESTION: But what you’re saying --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s that simple. Any time you have a summit, be it with the president of Ghana or the head of New Zealand, you do some preparatory work to figure out what it is that’s going to be (inaudible). That’s what we’re doing.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Of what kind?

QUESTION: On the United States – what they would require for the summit to be successful?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: (Inaudible.) We had discussions. I won’t go into the details of those for obvious reasons, but in similar types of discussions, we lay out what we expect to have happen, and the other side lays out what they expect.

QUESTION: But this is just broad parameters. You’re not actually expecting action between now and June 12th. You don’t want weapons inspectors on the ground tomorrow. You’re expecting just an agreement in principle to take future action.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t want to go into that degree of detail, I really don’t. I can tell you in broad brush what the goal is, is denuclearization. Also, as I think the President has made clear and Secretary Pompeo has made clear, the North Koreans have defined what they want as security, and they have determined some years ago that security could be found with nuclear weapons. What we have to convince them is that, on the contrary, their nuclear program has made them less secure, that there’s a better path forward, that we can work with them. We’re willing to work with them to provide them the security guarantees they feel they need, and in fact, we’re willing to go beyond that to help them have greater economic prosperity. But they have to denuclearize.

QUESTION: But all these things have been said by the Secretary and by the President from the Oval Office.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Correct.

QUESTION: So they’re looking for something more than words.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We need action. Yeah, we need a commitment.

QUESTION: No, they want (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We’ll see what --

QUESTION: Because you’ve said all these things, right?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We’ll see. Look, I think you’re right, but let’s see what we can do.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) --

MODERATOR: Guys --

QUESTION: -- one-day summit, are you --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m sorry, I didn’t --

QUESTION: Given that this is just a one-day summit, are you going to be satisfied (inaudible) that is not (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, the President made clear that he’s willing to stay on beyond (inaudible). I think we are looking for something historic. I think we’re looking for something that has never done before. And be it for whatever reason the North Koreans say they’re not ready to do something like that (inaudible). We will ramp up the pressure on them and we’ll be ready for the day that hopefully they are.

QUESTION: What’s changed in the past week since the President’s letter to Kim Jong-un? (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: He kind of spun it.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) can have the meeting?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think the North Koreans – my own – speaking personally, my own interpretation of Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan’s letter in response – it’s about the most conciliatory letter I’ve ever seen (inaudible).

QUESTION: It’s what (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: One of – the most conciliatory letter I’ve ever seen (inaudible).

QUESTION: It’s not?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It is. It is. I think that there was (inaudible).

QUESTION: Are you going to be discussing pulling nuclear warheads, nuclear weapons out of North Korea in this meeting?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I would not go into details. We are talking about denuclearization.

QUESTION: What needs to happen tonight?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: You guys have photographers there. I mean, you guys --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: No we don’t.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) meeting --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Oh. Well, there will be enough photographers. You’ll be able to figure it out.

MODERATOR: I have some pictures I can start to show you of the dinner. And it’s interesting; [Senior State Department Official] talks about – the Secretary’s talked about this a lot, sort of the idea of a brighter future and painting that for North Korea.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: A brighter future.

MODERATOR: A brighter future for North Korea, and there’s an interesting picture of the Secretary looking out on the skyline, sort of motioning to that, like the idea of here’s New York City, look at the landmarks.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) some day this will all be yours one (inaudible)? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Everything the light touches.

MODERATOR: I’ll show you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: With the eye on the sky.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MODERATOR: I don’t know. Let me double-check on that, okay?

QUESTION: Is there something specific --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) like are they having kimchi? I mean, we’re going to see --

MODERATOR: Gardiner, I’m going to get you the menu.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We’ll get you the menu.

MODERATOR: Just for you. Yeah, don’t worry, I’ll get (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And I will remind you that the Secretary of State is from the heartland and likes American food, and he’s hosting someone who’s never been to our country.

QUESTION: Steak and corn on the cob?

QUESTION: So steak.

MODERATOR: Well, I’ll let you know. I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: I thought they turned down the economic offer, though. I mean, that statement from the North Koreans that mentioned Bolton – down towards the end was also a rejection of the economic offer.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s why we’re having talks face to face and not corresponding either through the newspapers or letters. I think – making statements publicly and making statements in letters has a purpose when you don’t have an ability to talk otherwise, but the ideal thing is what’s happening right here, what’s happening in the DMZ, and what’s happening in Singapore.

QUESTION: So you do think economic incentives are there, that – other than lifting sanctions? The idea of private investment that Secretary Pompeo talked about, the best of the Midwest and all of this?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We are talking about a brighter future for North Korea if it makes a smart choice (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MODERATOR: We’ve got to wrap it up. Last couple questions.

QUESTION: What do you need --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

PARTICIPANT: (Off-mike.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Ah, yeah. All right.

QUESTION: There --

PARTICIPANT: (Off-mike.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay.

QUESTION: There were reports in the South Korean media about a letter being brought to Pompeo directly from Chairman Kim. Is that something that you’re expecting, direct communication to Trump, or --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I don’t know. President Trump sent a letter to Chairman Kim. It’s customary when you send a letter like that that a letter comes in return. We’ll have to see.

QUESTION: Would Pompeo – would Secretary Pompeo (inaudible) letter (inaudible) conveyor or – he’s also talked (inaudible) since Secretary Pompeo (inaudible) if there should be a meeting (inaudible). Is that --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It – that could be the way it plays out. I’m not positive (inaudible).

QUESTION: You mean a trip to Washington (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, no. I think that delivering the letter to the President would be something – if there is such a letter – is something that Kim Yong-chol came to the United States prepared to do, and we’ll have to see. We’ll --

QUESTION: What do you mean by that when you say delivering a letter to – personally?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I don’t – I would be surprised if he physically delivers the letter to the President, but again, we’ll have to see. His counterpart in the preparation for the summit has been the Secretary of State, so I think it would be perfectly natural, if there is a letter destined for the President, that he would give it to the Secretary of State.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MODERATOR: I think that’s – guys, I think that’s – hold on. I think that’s far too hypothetical, because you’re presuming that there’s some sort of letter, and to have [Senior State Department Official] quoted and talking about this --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) leading us in that direction saying that it’s (inaudible).

MODERATOR: Understood, understood, but --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Is the expectation that, given the short time (inaudible) signals and (inaudible) communicated in these meetings that by the end of tomorrow you’ll know one way or the other whether you would – whether they would be (inaudible) have a summit (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s up to the President, all right – that’s up to the President. The Secretary of State will make a report to the President about what happened here. He’s in regular contact with our folks in Singapore and our folks in – at the DMZ. Like I said before, that ultimate decision --

QUESTION: But this 24-hour (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Oh, I think it’s an important – this is an important meeting. I’m not saying (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MODERATOR: Okay, guys, we’ve got to – we’ve got to wrap this up, okay? Last one.

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], one thing: What do you expect to (inaudible) tonight --

QUESTION: Well --

MODERATOR: Hold on.

QUESTION: -- I just asked a question. (Inaudible.)

MODERATOR: Hold on. Relax, relax. Michelle had the last question. Michelle.

QUESTION: Heather --

QUESTION: What did – they’ve met twice before. This – you said this is their third meeting. Well, how would you describe their relationship and how they’ve gotten on and what (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think that’s a better question to go to Secretary Pompeo, because this is the third time. He’s America’s top diplomat. He’s trying to get to know his counterpart. That is how you do these things. You break bread with the person on the other side, you try to get to know them. (Inaudible.)

MODERATOR: Okay, we got to go.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: All right.

MODERATOR: We’re all done.