Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said getting North Korea to dismantle its nuclear and missile programs is a "decades long challenge," as President Donald Trump said Monday he remains confident Kim Jong Un will follow through on his pledges to do so.
Pompeo was speaking to troops during an unannounced stop in Afghanistan, days after North Korea blasted his performance during talks in Pyongyang, accusing the US of "gangster-like" behavior.
"Look, this is a decades long challenge, getting the North Koreans to make a fundamental strategic decision, which is that the nuclear weapons that they possess today frankly present a threat to them and not security," Pompeo said.
The State Department said the secretary's mention of 'decades' refers to how long the US has been confronted by the threat of a nuclear weapons program in North Korea and not a timeline for resolving the crisis.
The top US diplomat said North Korea has "for decades told their own people that without nuclear weapons their country was at risk of being attacked by the west, by America, by some other country." The job for the US now, he said, is "to get the entire country to understand that they have that strategically wrong. Chairman Kim told President Trump he understood that. I was there. I saw it."
Making that happen will take time, Pompeo said. "To think that this would happen in the course of a handful of hours would have been ludicrous, and I've been accused of many things, but not that."
Trump emerged from his Singapore summit with Kim boldly declaring that the US and North Korea had achieved a historic result and that North Korea was "no longer a nuclear threat," even though North Korea agreed on paper to no concrete actions or specific timeline for denuclearization -- merely reiterating previous unfulfilled commitments to peace and denuclearization.
Trump still appears to believe that the document he and Kim signed at the conclusion of their Singapore summit holds more weight than experts believe, referring to it on Monday as a "contract" and reaffirming the importance of his personal interactions with Kim by touting their "handshake."
"I have confidence that Kim Jong Un will honor the contract we signed &, even more importantly, our handshake," Trump tweeted on Monday. "We agreed to the denuclearization of North Korea."
Pompeo on Monday laid out the steps to creating "a peaceful solution," a painstaking process that will involve "fundamental changes in the relationship between our two countries."
This will involve bringing North Korea "into the community of nations and then we'll provide security assurances for their country as well," Pompeo said, "adequate so that they know their country can stand on its own two feet and not be under threat."
"If we can figure out how to piece that together, Chairman Kim has made very clear he's prepared to denuclearize and we're going to hold him accountable for that commitment," Pompeo said. There's many hours left in negotiation."
Trump indirectly referred to the "gangster" comment Monday, pointing a finger at China and accusing North Korea's powerful neighbor of possibly "exerting negative pressure on a deal" because of ongoing US-China trade disputes.
"Hope not!" Trump tweeted.
Joel Wit, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center and founder of 38 North, a website focused on North Korea analysis, said it wasn't likely that Pyongyang was acting at China's behest, as Trump and South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham claim.
"The North Korea pronouncement was very typical of their pronouncement. It was not aberration, it was very typical of their foreign ministry statements, so you know, I just think he's wrong," Wit said.
North Korea's "gangster" statement runs counter to Trump administration hopes that Kim is charting a new course for North Korean denuclearization and prompted North Korea experts to warn that Kim was repeating the same tactics his father and grandfather used during previous rounds of similar talks.
Pompeo on Sunday brushed aside the North Korean statements in Tokyo on Sunday, responding: "If those requests were gangster-like, the world is a gangster."
Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect the State Department's understanding of Pompeo's comment that dealing with North Korea's nuclear program is a "decades long challenge."