U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo headed Thursday to North Korea for more talks about ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program amid reports of American intelligence assessments that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is continuing to develop the infrastructure for his nuclear program.
Pompeo, charged by President Donald Trump with overseeing Kim's promise at last month's Singapore summit to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, was expected to arrive in the North Korean capital on Friday for two days of discussions. It is Pompeo's third visit this year to North Korea and the first where he will stay overnight.
In the highly watched Singapore accord, Kim agreed to the "complete denuclearization" of the Korean peninsula, but there were no details of how and when that might occur. Pompeo hopes to press North Korea to work toward a timetable to end its nuclear program and lay out details of how verification of that can be carried out.
But U.S. news accounts in recent days have shown pictures of what is said to be the expansion of nuclear-related buildings in North Korea.
Trump, however, has continued to boast of the results of the summit, even in the face of skepticism from some U.S. lawmakers.
A day after the summit, Trump declared, "Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea."
This week, Trump said on Twitter that his administration has been having "many good conversations " with the North Koreans over their plan to denuclearize and that "all of Asia is thrilled." He said, "If not for me, we would now be at War with North Korea!"
Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, says North Korea could dismantle its nuclear arsenal within a year, but other U.S. officials have said they hope it can be accomplished by the end of Trump's first term in the White House, in January 2021.
Sung-Yoon Lee, a Tufts University professor of Korean studies, told VOA that denuclearization means different things to the U.S. and North Korea, with Washington applying it only to Pyongyang and North Korea calling for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, although there is no indication South Korea has a nuclear arsenal.
He said that North Korea, "by dangling the possibility of giving up nuclear weapons and calling for a post-summit summit," another meeting with Trump, is managing to drag out negotiations over the details of any denuclearization.
Lee said North Korea has created a "mirage, the delusion of concessions" to the United States by releasing three Americans it was holding and destroying one of its nuclear test sites in order to push the U.S. to ease economic sanctions on the North, although Washington has shown no sign of relenting.
He said relations between the U.S. and North Korea have "dramatically shifted" in North Korea's favor over the past few months.
Lee said Kim's expansion of nuclear infrastructure, even since the Singapore summit, is "what North Korea has been doing over the past 25 years," making promises in exchange for drawn-out negotiations in hopes of concessions from the U.S.
(VOA's Victor Beattie contributed to this story.)