“I had the chance to speak with my North Korean counterpart Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho today”, Mike Pompeo tweeted on Saturday, describing the exchange as “quick and polite” and noting that the U.S. delegation to the ASEAN regional forum in Singapore “had the opportunity to deliver Donald Trump’s reply to Chairman Kim’s letter.”
Mike was even kind enough to share a fun picture.
(Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with North Korea’s Ri Yong Ho, Saturday, August 4)
Earlier this week, Trump referenced an apparent correspondence with Kim that the White House subsequently billed as an effort on Pyongyang’s part to “follow up” on the Singapore summit in the interest of “advancing the commitments made” at the June meeting.
In a Thursday tweet, Trump thanked Kim for returning the remains of fallen U.S. soldiers, a symbolic act that the administration has been keen to pitch as evidence of good will on the part of the Kim regime. “Also, thank you for your nice letter – l look forward to seeing you soon!”, Trump said in the same tweet.
It’s almost sad to watch a U.S. president being manipulated by a 35-year-old despot, but Trump’s various antics and brazen balderdash aren’t conducive to eliciting much in the way of sympathy from his critics.
For his part, Pompeo was embarrassed last month when a visit to Pyongyang (the first high-level talks with the Kim regime since the Singapore summit) went off the rails after a contentious exchange centered around sleep quality was caught on video. North Korea would go on to use the meeting as a propaganda tool, describing Pompeo’s style as “gangster-like”.
After escaping Pyongyang for the safe confines of Tokyo, Pompeo attempted to shrug off the North’s contention that the talks were “regrettable”. Asked by reporters whether he was, in fact, a “gangster”, Pompeo said this: “The world is gangster“.
He also told reporters he “refuses” to “go nuts.”
Keeping that promise (that he won’t lose his mind), is made immeasurably more difficult by his boss, who reportedly instructed Mike to hand deliver a CD single of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” to Kim.
Subsequent information suggested the package was not in fact delivered, possibly because Kim himself reportedly skipped the meeting with Pompeo in order to visit a potato farm.
Unfortunately, all of that is true. Truth, as they say, is indeed stranger than fiction.
Fast forward to Friday evening and according to a confidential U.N. report prepared by what Reuters describes as “independent experts monitoring the implementation of U.N. sanctions”, rumors that North Korea is still pursuing its nuclear and missile programs are not “rumors”.
The 149-page tome was submitted to the Security Council North Korea sanctions committee late on Friday. Here’s an excerpt:
North Korea has not stopped its nuclear and missile programs and continued to defy Security Council resolutions through a massive increase in illicit ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products, as well as through transfers of coal at sea during 2018.
According to Reuters, the report also says Pyongyang is attempting to sell weapons to the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen. Late last month, Saudi Arabia temporarily suspended oil shipments through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait following Houthi attacks. Riyadh is fighting a protracted war of attrition in Yemen.
On Saturday, the Saudis announced that petro product shipments from the strait have been resumed. “The decision to resume oil shipment through the strait of Bab- El-Mandeb was made after the leadership of the Coalition has taken necessary measures to protect the Coalition States’ ships”, Saudi Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources Khalid Al-Falih said.
The timing of that announcement left something to be desired. A little over two hours later, the Houthis said they have targeted King Khalid Air Base in Khamis Mushait.
Apparently, the authors of the UN report are in possession of a letter penned by a Houthi leader who extended an invite to North Korean officials to meet in Damascus in 2016. Here’s the quote:
[We can] discuss the issue of the transfer of technology and other matters of mutual interest.
The report also said North Korea is coordinating militarily with the regime in Syria.
As far as Pyongyang’s efforts to circumvent sanctions are concerned, experts described ship-to-ship transfers by North Korea as “increased in scope, scale and sophistication”.
The bottom line here is that irrespective of whether Donald Trump has in fact changed things for the better when it comes to relations with Kim’s reclusive dictatorship, North Korea is still doing what North Korea has been known to do. Their recalcitrance has been a defining feature of the geopolitical landscape for decades, and the idea that Trump has succeeded in materially altering their behavior simply by threatening to nuke them only to hold a photo op with Kim Jong-Un nine months later, is such a laughable proposition that one struggles to communicate how far-fetched it truly is.