According to, well, according to actual video of the exchange, Mike Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol had a bit of a testy exchange in Pyongyang on Saturday centered around whether or not Mike “slept well” on his first overnight stay in North Korea following initial discussions about the hermit regime’s commitment to denuclearization.
Pompeo’s account of the negotiations that took place this weekend (the first high level talks since the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore) didn’t match up with North Korea’s account. Specifically, Pompeo called the talks “productive” and Pyongyang accused him of adopting a “gangster-like” style in the course of demanding proof of Kim Jong-Un’s efforts to dismantle his nuclear capabilities.
Apparently, Mike also erred in referring to Kim Jong-Un as the “president” of North Korea, a title reserved exclusively for Kim’s grandfather who, as you may or may not be aware, is “eternal President”.
In any event, the competing accounts of what exactly went on Saturday cast more doubt on the prospects for a continued thawing of relations between Kim’s regime and the rest of the world and the use of hyperbole by the North seems to represent something of a devolution – a reversion to the “mean”, as it were, where “mean” can be taken both figuratively (a return to the type of absurd rhetoric that’s part and parcel of the regime’s propaganda machine) and literally (the use of combative terminology aimed at casting the rest of the humanity as a cabal of cruel robbers hell-bent on destroying the country).
This also comes amid intelligence reports which suggest the North is simply trying to hide its weapons and conceal production sites while securing concessions from a bamboozled Donald Trump.
Well, on Sunday, while hanging out in Tokyo, Pompeo dismissed the North’s accusations.
“I was there for the event, I know actually what precisely took place,” he told reporters, adding that “when we spoke to them about the scope of denuclearization, they did not push back.”
But the punchline came when Pompeo directly addressed the “gangster” characterization. Here’s what he said:
If those requests were gangster-like, the world is a gangster because there was a unanimous decision at the UN Security Council about what needs to be achieved. The enforcement of those sanctions will continue until denuclearization is complete.
I’m not sure if this has occurred to Pompeo (and if it hasn’t, then you’ve got to wonder about his bonafides as a former spy chief), but part and parcel of the propaganda strategy that has helped preserve this regime for years is an effort to make everyday North Koreans believe they are being extorted by a global conspiracy of gangsters disguised as diplomats. So I’m not sure Mike struck the right tone there.
As far as whether Mike is concerned about media reports, he had this to offer:
If I paid attention to what the press said, I’d go nuts — and I refuse to do that.
It wasn’t immediately clear what it was he was “refusing” to “do”: pay attention to the press, go nuts, or both.
For their part, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha looked decidedly skeptical.