In Tokyo following his latest visit to Pyongyang, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denies that Washington has softened its stance against North Korea.

The U.S. is still demanding “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization (CVID)” of the nuclear-armed hermit state, he said Sunday.

Speculation has been rife that the U.S. might have tempered its demand on the North — having recently started calling for “the final, fully verified denuclearization (FFVD)” of North Korea instead of CVID, a key phrase jointly used by the United States, South Korea and Japan.

Pompeo’s use of the phrase FFVD has raised concern among Japanese diplomats because it sounds less specific about what the North will actually be obliged to do.

But “there is no difference” between the two phrases and North Korea clearly understands it, Pompeo insisted during a joint news conference in Tokyo after the trilateral meeting with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts, Taro Kono and Kang Kyung-wha.

“The United States, Republic of Korea and Japan continue to strengthen our trilateral cooperation to achieve the goal set out in Singapore,” Pompeo said. ROK is the formal name of South Korea. Pompeo had arrived in Tokyo on Saturday night after finishing his two-day tour to Pyongyang earlier in the day.

On Sunday, during their 40-minute trilateral meeting, Pompeo briefed Kono and Kang about the results of his latest talks with the North, Kang said.

Pompeo’s latest trip to North Korea has drawn particular attention because it was the first high-level meeting in which discussion touched on specific steps to denuclearize the North, following the historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12.

By analyzing the results of Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang, Japanese officials are trying to gauge how seriously North Korea is committing itself to the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” that was agreed in the Trump-Kim meeting in Singapore.

Whether the North will set a concrete time line for denuclearization, and honestly declare all of its facilities related to its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, will be the very first and perhaps the most important factor for denuclearization, multiple senior officials at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo have said.

During the news conference in Tokyo, Pompeo emphasized that his conversations with North Korean leaders were “productive,” and that “progress” has been made during his talks with North Korean officials.

However, he did not go into detail about what was actually achieved during his latest stay in Pyongyang.

Asked if he had discussed any timetable or declaration of nuclear and missile facilities in the North, Pompeo only said he discussed a lot of issues with the North Korean officials and that there is “still much work to do to establish a precise time line.”

Soon after Pompeo departed from North Korea on Saturday, senior officials in Pyongyang blasted his perhaps overly optimistic views about the talks, in a statement released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The U.S. “came up only with its unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization, just calling for CVID, declaration and verification, all of which run counter to the spirit of the Singapore summit and talks,” KCNA quoted a spokesman at the North’s Foreign Ministry as saying.

Whether or not the strong words KCNA used against Pompeo marks a return to its usual forceful but rather empty rhetoric remains unclear.

In fact, near the end of the statement, KCNA quoted the spokesman as saying “we still cherish our good faith in President Trump.”

Asked to respond to the KCNA comment, Pompeo said he is only trying to implement what was agreed by Trump and Kim in Singapore and demands made in resolutions by the United Nations Security Council — which has called for the “complete, verifiable and irreversible” dismantling of the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

“If those requests are gangster-like, the world is a gangster because there was a unanimous decision at the U.N. Security Council about what needs to be achieved,” he said.

Pompeo also highlighted that the economic sanctions currently imposed on the North “will remain in place until final, fully verified denuclearization as agreed by Chairman Kim occurs.”

The Trump-Kim summit in Singapore was roundly criticized by experts because it failed to nail down concrete steps or a time line to have the North abandon all its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, and because the two leaders merely agreed to work toward what was termed the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Pompeo also said that during the latest meetings with his North Korean counterpart, he raised the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s. During the trilateral meeting in Tokyo, Kono thanked Pompeo for that, a senior Foreign Ministry official said later on Sunday.

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