Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he warned Russia, China and others at a major summit in Asia over the weekend not to violate sanctions on North Korea, asserting that the Trump administration has no intention of lifting them until Pyongyang fully abandons its nuclear weapons.
“I called on them to strictly enforce all sanctions, including the complete shutdown of illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum destined for North Korea,” Mr. Pompeo said on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations conference (ASEAN) in Singapore.
His comments came during a three-day trip that wrapped up Sunday and included stops in Malaysia and Indonesia, where Mr. Pompeo separately sought to ease concerns that President Trump’s bare-knuckle trade posturing means Washington may be poised to retreat from Asia amid rising Chinese influence across the region.
Mr. Pompeo pushed back against the notion of a U.S. withdrawal, asserting in an interview Sunday with the Indonesia’s “Metro TV” that America wants to be a fair and “great partner” to Asian nation, in contrast to China, which he described as an aggressor.
“The country that attempts to use its economic power to dominate this region is China, not the United States,” he said. “We simply want free and open, fair trade, reciprocal trade We have no intention of dominating.”
The Trump administration has touted hopes for a major increase in investment from the U.S. private sector to bolster billions in current U.S. government-funded initiatives across Asia, just as China floods the region with its own infrastructure projects. U.S. officials have downplayed the idea that Mr. Trump’s evolving “Indo-Pacific strategy” aims to undercut China’s expanding influence.
Mr. Pompeo stressed in speech to American business leaders last week that Washington’s goal is to foster “market-driven” growth, in contrast to the hundreds of billions worth of Chinese government cash that Beijing’s “Belt and Road Initiative” is currently pumping into regional infrastructure contracts in exchange for access to resources across Asia.
While the U.S.-China competition hung in the backdrop, it was Mr. Pompeo’s remarks on North Korea that created the most buzz over the weekend. In calling for ongoing support for sanctions, the secretary specifically singled out Moscow, pointing to “reports that Russia is allowing for joint ventures with North Korean firms and granting new work permits to North Korean guest workers.”
“If these reports prove accurate — and we have every reason to believe that they are — that would be in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2375,” Mr. Pompeo said in reference to collective sanctions the U.N. body leveled on Pyongyang last September.
“This is a serious issue and something that we will discuss with Moscow,” he said.
Mr. Pompeo’s emphasis on sanctions comes amid growing skepticism over the extent to which the Trump administration’s push for diplomacy with Pyongyang is bearing real steps toward the goal of denuclearization. The secretary brushed aside such skepticism at ASEAN, saying the denuclearization process “is one that I think we have all known would take some time.”
“I am optimistic that we will get this done,” added Mr. Pompeo, who has previously said Washington wants Pyongyang to denuclearize before the end of Mr. Trump’s first term in early 2021.
Drama surrounded the issue over the weekend, since the ASEAN conference was also attended by a North Korean delegation. While Mr. Pompeo did not meet formally with the delegation, conference attendees watched with great interest when the two delegations briefly came together for handshakes.
Mr. Pompeo later tweeted that the U.S. side gave the North Koreans a letter from Mr. Trump in response to a letter Kim Jong-un had sent to the president last week.
Mr. Trump tweeted Thursday that he had received a “nice letter” from Mr. Kim. He also thanked the North Korean leader for “keeping [his] word” last week by handing over what are believed to be the remains of U.S. service members who were killed in the Korean War.
• Guy Taylor can be reached at email@example.com.
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