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Trump tells Pompeo to cancel North Korea visit

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that he would be traveling to North Korea next week. On Friday, Trump asked him to cancel the trip. | Cliff Owen/AP Photo

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President Donald Trump on Friday asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to cancel an upcoming trip to North Korea, saying on Twitter that the United States has not made “sufficient progress” on nuclear talks with the country in what appeared to be his first admission that the discussions have stalled.

Trump partly blamed China for the difficulties, suggesting that Beijing is intervening with North Korea out of unhappiness with his “much tougher Trading stance” and adding that the nuclear talks may not get back on track until U.S.-Chinese trade disputes are “resolved” — a high bar.

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“I do not believe they are helping with the process of denuclearization as they once were,” Trump wrote of the Chinese.

Trump tweets were just the latest in a series of out-of-left-field moves by the president when it comes to North Korea, whose nuclear arsenal is considered one of America’s top national security threats. The tweets also appeared to undermine his secretary of state, who said a day earlier that he’ll visit North Korea next week along with a newly named U.S. envoy tasked with tackling the nuclear talks.

It is difficult to say how the North Koreans, or the Chinese, will react to what seems to be an increasingly common Trump pressure tactic of threatening to abandon diplomacy.

In the run-up to his historic June summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, for instance, Trump called off the get-together only to reschedule it days later. He also used Twitter last year to tell then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson not to bother to pursue talks with Pyongyang.

One analyst said Trump may have decided to scuttle Pompeo’s visit out of fear the trip would result in more bad news during an already terrible stretch for the president. Trump’s former lawyer and former campaign chairman were both swept up in serious legal troubles this week that have raised the specter of impeachment.

“The last thing he wants to add to his mounting troubles is Pompeo coming home from North Korea empty-handed yet again,” said Suzanne DiMaggio of the New America think tank. “North Korea is supposed to be his big foreign policy win.”

DiMaggio added that Trump has put himself in a weakened position because, after his summit with Kim in Singapore, he declared that North Korea was no longer a nuclear threat to the United States. Now, “Trump has given Pyongyang the advantage and undercut his own negotiators,” she said.

Trump posted his tweets in a series on Friday afternoon, starting off by writing: “I have asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to go to North Korea, at this time, because I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

But as is often the case with the unpredictable Republican president, Trump left open the possibility he could change his mind — hinting that he hoped for a second summit with Kim.

“Secretary Pompeo looks forward to going to North Korea in the near future, most likely after our Trading relationship with China is resolved,” Trump wrote. “In the meantime I would like to send my warmest regards and respect to Chairman Kim. I look forward to seeing him soon!”

Pompeo had said Thursday that he would visit North Korea next week. The same day, he also named Stephen Biegun as the new U.S. envoy for the nuclear talks, and said Biegun would travel with him. The secretary of state didn’t issue a response to Trump on Friday, but he retweeted the president’s statements, indicating he would follow the orders.

U.S. and South Korean army soldiers pose on a floating bridge on the Hantan river.

A State Department official said that Pompeo and Biegun’s visit “has been postponed,” without giving a future date. The official added: “The decision was made by the president in consultation with his national security team.” There was no immediate reaction from Pyongyang or Beijing.

It is unlikely that the U.S. trade disputes with China will be resolved anytime soon. Both sides have been imposing tariffs and trading accusations against the other, and there was no breakthrough in a round of talks held earlier this week.

The U.S. and North Korea have been negotiating for months over a deal for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for economic and security concessions. The negotiations followed the Trump administration’s global “maximum pressure” campaign against Pyongyang that was built largely around sanctions.

Trump surprised the world earlier this year when he agreed to Kim’s invitation to meet in person and jump-start nuclear talks. When the pair met, Kim agreed to a statement promising “complete denuclearization” of the peninsula.

The statement, however, was vague, and not nearly as comprehensive as past agreements between the U.S. and North Korea that have fallen apart. In the months since, the two sides have struggled to flesh out a proper deal, and North Korea is believed to be continuing its nuclear program.

Still, both sides have taken some confidence-building steps. Trump called off joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, and North Korea returned what it said were the remains of 55 U.S. troops who died or went missing during the Korean War.

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