WASHINGTON (CN) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told members of the House Foreign Affairs committee Wednesday that talks with North Korea in June are still on track but the U.S. won’t hesitate to leave negotiations if Kim Jong Un reverses course from plans to denuclearize the peninsula.
“A bad deal is not an option,” Pompeo said. “The American people are counting on us to get this right and if the right deal isn’t on the table, we will respectfully walk away.”
Pompeo said during the talks with Pyongyang, President Donald Trump will take the lead, and that he, Pompeo, will take a supportive rule along with National Security Adviser John Bolton.
According to a Washington Post report on Tuesday, it has been Bolton’s involvement behind the scenes that has caused the preparations for the talks to falter in recent days, including his proposal that the U.S. follow a “Libya model” for negotiations with North Korea.
The Libya model refers to a 2003 U.S. proposal to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi that he give up his nuclear weapon programs in exchange for sanctions relief. Gaddafi was later overthrown, apprehended by political opponents and murdered.
Democratic Reps. Joaquin Castro of Texas and Brad Sherman of California pressed Pompeo for his opinion of Bolton’s Libya method.
For now, Pompeo said the goal is “avoiding a long and slow process.” When Rep. Castro asked Pompeo if the process also involved removing Kim from leadership “as was done with Gaddafi,” the secretary repeated that talks will move forward step by step.
Pompeo said “zero concessions” have been made to Kim but conversations have been mostly fruitful.
“Our demands have been non-ambiguous,” Pompeo said. “We’ve talked about our mutual goals and what the world demands. [He] has candidly shared his thoughts … my hope is when he meets the president, he’s willing to pursue a strategic shift.”
Pompeo also offered a glimpse into what the U.S. is prepared to do if negotiations are successful at the June 12 summit.
“The president has made it clear that we are prepared to provide security assurances to North Korea,” he said. “If we get a good deal.”
Turning to other matters, Pompeo reiterated the president’s tough stance on Iran, but said pressure to get the country to give up its nuclear ambitions and penchant for stirring up mayhem in the Middle East cannot come from the U.S. alone.
“It’s time for other nations, especially those with high GDP, to assume greater responsibility and devote greater resources towards common objectives, whether it’s crushing terrorists, stopping Iran’s malign behavior, strengthening NATO alliances or eradicating infectious diseases,” Pompeo said.
On Russia, the secretary while he believes an intelligence assessment that the Kremlin tried to interfere with the 2016 election, there are other matters that are also of concern, not least of these being Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea.
“The fact that Russia has taken one-fifth of that country … we should never forget that,” Pompeo said.
Rep. Bill Keating, D-Mass, asked Pompeo to jog Trump’s memory about other national security concerns, like those surrounding ZTE, the Chinese telecommunications giant.
The Commerce Department last month blocked China’s ZTE from importing American components for seven years, accusing it of misleading U.S. regulators after it last year settled charges of violating sanctions against Iran and North Korea. The ban was a virtual death sentence for ZTE, which relies on U.S. parts.
But President Trump is considering reversing course so that the Chinese firm can stay in business.
The ZTE talks occur after the U.S. and China over the weekend suspended plans to impose tariffs on as much as $200 billion in each other’s goods, pulling back from the brink of a trade war. China on Tuesday made a conciliatory gesture by cutting the tariff on imported vehicles to 15 percent from 25 percent, effective July 1.
In the face of congressional criticism, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday denied that the U.S. is offering relief for ZTE in exchange for trade concessions.
Pompeo took the same tact Wednesday.
“Nothing was done in six years [with ZTE violations]. This administration is going to do something but its worth noting that nothing was done [before,]” he said.
“But that doesn’t make it right. Trump’s been in office a year now and he hasn’t done anything [about the violations] either,” Rep. Keating said.
Keating also asked Pompeo “for the safety of the country” to advise Trump to change his cell phone and better secure it since it could be targeted.
Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., also had a request of Pompeo: protect women’s rights and curb the “abortion hysteria” she says has gripped the White House.
The administration’s decisions to slash funding to international family planning assistance groups by 50 percent, to eliminate assistance to the United Nations Population Fund – which combats sex trafficking, child marriage and genital mutilation – as well as the president’s order to reinstate and expand the global gag rule which forces healthcare providers to cut services to women, are proof the White House has left women in the U.S. and abroad, out in the cold, she said.
“I’m not talking about funding abortion. And as you know, abortion is not contraception,” Frankel said, noting that the State Department’s most recent report on women’s health cut entire sections featuring stats on issues like rape, domestic violence, discrimination, harassment and reproductive rights.
Calling the cuts “insane,” Frankel told Pompeo: “We have abortion hysteria in this administration and because of that hysteria, you’re cutting off healthcare to women all over the world.”
“Remember: women’s rights are human rights and it is absolutely tied into the peace, security and prosperity of the world.”
“The administration is committed to the health and well being of all women and always has been,” Pompeo said.
“No,” Frankel said, shaking her head vigorously. “That’s not true.”