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N Korea at crossroads

Pompeo faces Pyongyang test on denuclearization

Meeting will help gauge regime's willingness to cooperate with US

Experts say that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will pressure North Korean officials to submit a list of nuclear weapons and facilities.    © Reuters

SEOUL -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to make his third visit to Pyongyang, facing the tough mission of making tangible progress in the wake of the symbolic agreement signed by President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore last month.

Pompeo's trip is planned for Thursday to Saturday.

Experts say that Pompeo will pressure North Korean officials to submit a list of nuclear weapons and facilities in the country which the U.S. wants to be dismantled quickly. That will be a barometer to gauge North Korea's willingness to denuclearize, as it promised to do in the historic meeting.

"Pompeo will ask North Korea to show a list of its nuclear arsenals and facilities. He will also demand that Pyongyang report its timetable for the dismantlement program," said You Seung-min, chief strategist at Samsung Securities. "That will be the start of a long journey to denuclearization negotiations, which will take at least a few years."

Pompeo's three-day trip to North Korea comes amid spreading doubts over the country's intentions towards denuclearization. U.S. media have reported that North Korea is trying to deceive the U.S. about the number of nuclear warheads in its arsenal and the existence of undisclosed facilities used to make fissile material for nuclear bombs, quoting unnamed intelligence officials. North Korea is known to have scores of nuclear warheads.

Pompeo's other mission is to bring back the remains of U.S. prisoners of war or those missing in action in North Korea, which the two leaders agreed at the summit. Return of the war heroes' remains will boost Trump's popularity at home, helping support his negotiations with North Korea.

"Trump will take part in the ceremony where hundreds of U.S. soldiers' remains covered by the Stars and Stripes flag come back home. That should be a big show which the president is eager to make," said You at Samsung Securities.

Joseph Yun, a senior adviser at the U.S. Institute of Peace and former U.S. special representative for North Korea Policy, said that Pompeo has been given one of the toughest jobs in the world.

"I think Washington is beginning to realize how difficult it is. This is one of the most difficult projects," said Yun in a forum in Jeju recently. "You only have a timeline if you know what the object is. [But] there is no fundamental trust. And it makes [the negotiations] so much harder."

Pompeo will leave for Tokyo on Saturday where he will meet his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha. They will share the results of the meeting in North Korea and discuss how to cooperate in negotiations.

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