North Korea Continues to Produce Fissile Material for Nukes: Pompeo

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 25, 2018, during a hearing on diplomacy and national security. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 25, 2018, during a hearing on diplomacy and national security. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

North Korea continues to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons despite leader Kim Jong-un's commitment to President Donald Trump to "denuclearization," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday.

"Yes, they continue to produce fissile material," Pompeo said in response to questions from Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Pompeo declined in open session to comment on whether North Korea also was continuing to produce submarine-launched ballistic missiles. "I can't answer that" in public, Pompeo said, but he agreed with Markey that North Korea's human rights abuses also continued unchecked.

In the exchange with Pompeo, Markey charged that the administration had little to show for June 12 Singapore summit between Trump and Kim.

"We have yet to see any tangible progress toward denuclearization. I am afraid that, at this point, the U.S. is being taken for a ride" by North Korea, Markey said.

Pompeo bristled at the characterization. "Fear not, senator," he said. Under Trump, the U.S. was committed to the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of North Korea's weapons of mass destruction, he said.

Pompeo said there were "lots of discussions" underway that he was not at liberty to discuss and "We have not been taken for a ride, senator."

Later in the hearing, in an exchange with Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, Pompeo said again that the North Koreans were continuing to produce fissile material.

Throughout the hearing, Pompeo countered scathing criticism from both sides of the aisle on the Singapore summit with Kim and the Helsinki summit earlier this month with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Senators from both parties were "filled with serious doubt about this White House and its conduct of America foreign policy," said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, chairman of the Committee. "I can't say it more forcefully, we need a clear understanding of what's going on, what our president is agreeing to."

Corker ran through a litany of aggressive actions by Putin, from the annexation of Crimea to meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, but he charged that Trump appeared to be "submissive and deferential" to Putin at Helsinki.

Corker called Kim one of the world's most "ruthless dictators, and yet Trump has called him "very talented" and added that "he loves his people." Corker paused and added "Really?"

Pompeo insisted that Trump was following a "coherent strategy" on Russia and North Korea, and "Americans are safer because of his actions."

On North Korea, Pompeo insisted that "progress is happening" toward denuclearization but "we will not let this drag out to no end."

On Russia, Pompeo said that the White House on Wednesday issued a declaration calling on Russia to "end its occupation of Crimea." He also said that the administration was boosting aid to Ukraine.

"There will be no relief of Crimea-related sanctions until Russia returns control of the Crimean peninsula to Ukraine," Pompeo said.

Pompeo also defended the meeting with Putin in Helsinki. "Two great nuclear powers should not have a contentious relationship," he said.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, told Pompeo that if President Barack Obama had acted as Trump did in Helsinki, "we'd be peeling you off the Capitol ceiling."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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