Pompeo says 'still hopeful' for a North Korea deal

Washington (AFP) –


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday he remained hopeful for a nuclear agreement with North Korea, despite speculation about leader Kim Jong Un's health and a standstill in talks.

Pompeo, whose diplomacy paved the way for a breakthrough 2018 summit in Singapore between Kim and President Donald Trump, said for the second time in as many weeks that a leadership change in North Korea would not change US policy.

"Regardless of what transpires inside of North Korea with respect to their leadership, our mission remains the same -- to deliver on that commitment that Chairman Kim made with President Trump back in Singapore, and that's the... verified denuclearization of North Korea," Pompeo told reporters.

"We are still hopeful that we'll find a path to negotiate that solution to get the outcome that is good for the American people, good for the North Korean people and for the whole world," he said.

Speaking earlier Wednesday to Fox News, Pompeo voiced concern that North Korea could be hit either by the coronavirus pandemic or widespread hunger.

"There is a real risk that there will be a famine, a food shortage, inside of North Korea," he said.

The totalitarian state, which prides itself on self-reliance, was ravaged in the 1990s by a famine estimated to have killed at least hundreds of thousands of people.

Pompeo, who traveled four times to Pyongyang in 2018, declined to speculate on Kim's health and said that he had met much of the North Korean leadership including Kim's sister Kim Yo Jong -- seen as a key player in the event of succession.

A top official in South Korea, which has been seeking reconciliation with its totalitarian neighbor, has said that Kim is "alive and well."

Daily NK, an online media outlet run mostly by North Korean defectors, reported that Kim underwent a cardiovascular procedure triggered by heavy smoking, obesity and fatigue.

Trump last week denied a report on Kim's health by CNN, his frequent nemesis, and on Monday said without further explanation that he had a "very good idea" about the North Korean leader's condition.

Trump, who has boasted that he prevented war with North Korea, met Kim twice more after Singapore but talks have been off for most of the past year.

North Korea is demanding an end to US sanctions and has shown anger by lobbing a series of projectiles into the sea.

Trump's aides, notably Pompeo, argue that North Korea must give up its nuclear arsenal before it reaps any rewards.