U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet with his ASEAN counterparts in Singapore this week, promoting the Trump administration’s vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific, but concerns about North Korea may dominate the agenda.
At the East Asia Summit ministerial, Pompeo will meet with his 17 counterparts to address the region’s most critical security challenges, including the nuclear threat posed by Pyongyang, conflicts in the South China Sea, the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine state in Myanmar, and cybersecurity, among other topics.
Asked whether Pompeo would have a bilateral meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho in Singapore, a senior State Department official told reporters, “The DPRK is in the room as a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum among these 27 countries. So there will be discussions that are inclusive of North Korea.”
No plans for Iran meeting
The official said there are chance encounters and planned encounters at such major gatherings, but there are no bilateral meetings to announce.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it was working on setting up bilateral meetings with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and counterparts from several countries, including the United States.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will also be in Singapore, but the senior State Department official said there are no plans for engagement with Iran.
Concerns over ongoing nuclear and missile activity in North Korea surged after The Washington Post reported Tuesday that U.S. intelligence officials believe Pyongyang is continuing to build new missiles in the same research facility it used to build intercontinental missiles capable of reaching the East Coast of the United States.
New regional investments
The senior State Department official declined to comment on the reports, saying he would not discuss intelligence matters.
Singapore was the site of a summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June, where the two pledged to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
But experts say North Korea appears to be continuing its nuclear and missiles programs, and the two sides need to continue talks to nail down what steps will be taken first in the process.
Ahead of his trip, Pompeo announced $113 million in new regional investments for the Indo-Pacific, focused on technology, energy and infrastructure.
The focus on the region comes at time of heightened tensions with China over trade and tariffs.
Stops planned in Malaysia, Jakarta
Speaking at an Indo-Pacific Business Forum on Monday, Pompeo said, “Like so many of our Asian allies and friends, our country fought for its own independence from an empire that expected deference. We thus have never and will never seek domination in the Indo-Pacific, and we will oppose any country that does.”
On the way to Singapore, Pompeo will make a stop in Malaysia to meet with newly elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to discuss shared interests, including trade and counterterrorism.
On his way back to Washington, Pompeo will stop in Jakarta, Indonesia, to meet with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to reaffirm the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with world's third-largest democracy.