From the outside, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's strange trip to North Korea Friday and Saturday did not look like a success. He didn't get an audience with Kim Jong Un, despite the White House saying he would — Pompeo said afterward he hadn't expected to meet with Kim — and North Korea issued a statement Saturday calling it a "regrettable" visit in which Pompeo's "gangster-like" demands "might rattle our willingness for denuclearization that had been firm." On Sunday, Pompeo sounded upbeat about the meeting, saying he refused to pay attention to what people are saying in the press, so he doesn't "go nuts."
"When we spoke to them about denuclearization, they did not push back," Pompeo said in Japan on Sunday. "The road ahead will be difficult and challenging and we know that critics will try to minimize the work that we've achieved." He said if his demands were "gangster-like," then "the world is a gangster," and said he believes the North Koreans are negotiating in good faith "because they were, and they did." In Hanoi on Monday, Pompeo held up Vietnam as a model Pyongyang should emulate of economic success after making peace with the U.S.
The North Korean statement "was a fairly serious insult directed against Pompeo," says Christopher Hill, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea and lead negotiator with North Korea. "I think it was a pretty bad start to the process, but it doesn't mean it's over yet," because with North Korea, "most of the time you come back empty-handed." On Fox News Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) blamed China for "pulling the North Koreans back" in the peace talks. "And to our North Korean friends, I can't say the word 'friend' yet," he added. "You asked Pompeo: 'Did he sleep well?' If you knew what I knew about what we could do to the leadership of North Korea, you wouldn't sleep very well."