Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News Sunday that the U.S. would need to offer North Korea some guarantees of security as part of a historic effort to denuclearize the isolated state, a decision likely prompted by the fate of other nations that have given up weapons of mass destruction in exchange for peace with the U.S.
Pompeo told the TV show that “we will have to provide security assurances, to be sure” for North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un in exchange for the young leader agreeing to abandon his nuclear weapons program, which has stoked a U.S.-led campaign of international sanctions and military pressure. Pyongyang has used U.S. threats of military action to justify its nuclear development, highlighting U.S. invasions of Iraq and Libya, two countries that pursued nuclear weapons and ultimately abandoned them.
As President Donald Trump reneges on the U.S.’s commitment to a multilateral 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, Pompeo’s words signal that the administration may need to go further to assure fellow “Axis of Evil” member North Korea that it will not end up the victim of another U.S.-led regime change effort.
Iraq pursued nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs in the 1970s and, in 1981, Israel destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor in a surprise air raid called “Operation Opera” or “Operation Babylon.” Iraq continued to develop its weapons of mass destruction for a decade before agreeing to dismantle its chemical weapons program and freeze all biological and nuclear weapons activities in 1991. The U.S. continued to accuse Saddam Hussein of pursuing weapons of mass destruction and invaded Iraq in 2003, overthrowing the Baathist government and installing a friendly Shiite Muslim leadership. U.S. allegations that Iraq continued producing weapons of mass destruction turned out to be false.
Later that same year, Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi agreed to abandon his own weapons of mass destruction. Like Hussein, Qaddafi pursued biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in the 1970s and 1980s and agreed to cease doing so in 1991. While the original “Axis of Evil” presented in 2002 by former President George W. Bush included Iran, Iraq (under Hussein) and North Korea, then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton extended this list to include Cuba, Libya and Syria. The international community hailed Qaddafi’s 2003 deal and, the following year, Bolton said that North Korea should also consider forfeiting its nuclear weapons for peace.
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While North Korea, the U.S. and other regional powers made extensive efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, talks ultimately fell apart. Meanwhile, Qaddafi was violently ousted by rebels assisted by the U.S.-led NATO military alliance in 2011 and North Korea accelerated its own nuclear program. Two weeks ago, Bolton—now the U.S. national security adviser—renewed his argument that Qaddafi’s deal could serve as a model for an anticipated agreement between Trump and Kim, despite the former having ultimately led to the Libyan leader’s downfall and death.
North Korea, which many Western countries have also criticized for its human rights record, has deeply condemned the U.S. for its interventions in the Middle East—of which Pompeo and Bolton have been staunch supporters—especially through attacks in the tightly controlled official media of the secretive, authoritarian state. In March, the Korean Central News Agency described the U.S. as “the top class war merchant that spawns war and massacre in different parts of the world” over its extended involvement abroad in one of many disparaging articles.
More recently, however, the Korean Central News Agency and other official North Korea outlets have softened their anti-U.S. tone as Kim presents himself as a statesman. Last month, Kim met Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time and crossed the border to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in, making him the first North Korean ruler to enter the U.S.-backed rival state. In what is likely the most highly anticipated summit yet, Kim is set to become the first supreme leader to meet a sitting U.S. president during direct talks with Trump scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.
Kim has already taken steps to prove his commitment ahead fo the meeting. Last month, he said he would freeze all nuclear testing and longer-range missile tests and the Korean Central News Agency announced Saturday that Pyongyang would dismantle its nuclear testing site between May 23 and 25. North Korea also recently released three U.S. prisoners, while the Trump administration has maintained it has not offered any concessions as of yet. Experts have identified the lifting of sanctions, the signing of a peace treaty and official guarantees of security as possible North Korean demands.