U.S. hopeful North Korea summit will take place but prepared to walk away: Pompeo
North Korea has told journalists it will use explosives to close nuclear test tunnels
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday the United States is prepared to walk away from nuclear negotiations with North Korea if an upcoming meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un heads in the wrong direction.
"A bad deal is not an option," Pompeo said in his written opening statement for the House's foreign affairs committee hearing. "The American people are counting on us to get this right. If the right deal is not on the table, we will respectfully walk away."
Pompeo said he was "very hopeful" the summit will take place on June 12 in Singapore, but said "that decision will ultimately be up to Chairman Kim." Trump said on Tuesday there was a "substantial chance" it will be called off amid concerns Pyongyang is not prepared to give up its nuclear arsenal.
Pompeo said a U.S.-led sanctions pressure campaign on Pyongyang would not be eased until North Korea gives up nuclear weapons and that the United States had no intention of making concessions to Pyongyang.
"Our posture will not change until we see credible steps taken toward the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," Pompeo said.
Pompeo said Trump would be leading the talks but declined to discuss how many people, or who, would be on the summit team.
Pompeo told the committee that it's his hope that when Trump and Kim confer, "we can get the North Koreans to make this strategic shift about how best to serve the country — that the nuclear weapons program isn't in fact the thing that keeps the regime in power, but the thing that prevents the regime from being in a place it wants to be with economic success."
Pompeo, who was director of the CIA under Trump before becoming secretary of state in April when the president fired Rex Tillerson, has met twice with Kim in Pyongyang. On his most recent trip, he brought back three Americans who had been held by North Korea.
Pompeo said he had raised the issue of human rights with Kim "and it will be part of the discussions as we move forward."
Journalists embarks on trip to nuclear site
While Pompeo testified, international journalists left Wednesday on a marathon journey to a North Korea nuclear test site, after Pyongyang belatedly cleared a number of South Korean media to witness what it says will be the dismantling of its only nuclear test facility.
The trek will involve an 11-hour train ride, a four-hour bus journey and then a hike of another hour, a reporter with Russia's RT said on Twitter.
North Korea suspended planned talks last week with the South and threatened to pull out of an upcoming summit with the U.S. But the invitation to media was seen by some as an indication that its unexpected offer to end its nuclear tests still held.
North Korea invited international media to observe the destruction with explosives of the Punggye-ri site, but not experts as initially promised, casting doubt over how verifiable the plan is and whether it will be safe.
It had also declined to take the South Korean reporters after calling off planned intra-Korean talks in protest against U.S.-South Korean "Max Thunder" air combat drills.
Seoul is seeking to mediate between the United States and North Korea, with South Korean President Moon Jae-in visiting Washington on Tuesday to urge Trump to seize the rare opportunity to meet Kim.
Talks between the Koreas will likely resume after Friday, once Max Thunder finishes, said Moon's media secretary, Yoon Young-chan.
Reporters from news outlets from the other countries said on Twitter they arrived in the North Korean port city of Wonsan on Tuesday. The eight South Koreans arrived in Wonsan on Wednesday, where they were forced to leave their radiation detectors, satellite phones and Bluetooth mouses before they all set off for the test site, according to South Korean media pool reports.
North Korea had announced it would use explosives to close test tunnels, expected on Thursday or Friday.
Seoul's Unification Ministry welcomed Pyongyang's decision to accept the South Koreans.
"We hope for an early realization of complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula through a North Korea-U.S. summit and dialogue of various levels, starting with the abolition of the nuclear test site," ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun told a news briefing.
Russia-N.K. talks scheduled
North Korea's last-minute acceptance of South Korean reporters came amid concerns that Kim was starting to back away from his promise to scrap the nuclear program, which it has pursued in defiance of years of UN Security Council resolutions.
North Korea has rejected unilateral disarmament and given no indication it is willing to go beyond statements of broad support for the concept of universal denuclearization.
North Korea has always justified its nuclear program as a deterrent against perceived U.S. hostility.
It has said in previous, failed talks that it could consider giving up its arsenal if the United States provided security guarantees by removing its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan.
The United States stations 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
America's superpower rivals were tracking the developments closely.
China said both the United States and North Korea were still making preparations for the summit, and Beijing hoped both sides can "clear away distractions."
"We really hope that all sides, especially the United States and North Korea, can seize the opportunity, meet each other halfway, and resolve in a balanced way each other's concerns," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang told a regular news briefing. "We still look forward to the meeting between the U.S. and North Korean leaders proceeding smoothly and achieving positive results."
Lu said China had played a positive role on the Korean peninsula, after Trump reiterated his suggestion that Kim's recent meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping had influenced Kim to harden his stance ahead of the summit.
Russia has expressed support for the U.S.-North Korea summit and in the past has pushed for multilateral talks involving the North to address the nuclear issue.
Russia announced Wednesday that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will travel to North Korea for a visit on May 31.