President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un met at a hot Singaporean club last week to sign a sheet of paper promising “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Big news!
Long before this vaguely worded statement was criticized for being vaguely worded, State Department staff had been keen to use another term to describe the process. “We are committed to the permanent, verifiable, irreversible dismantling of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction program and to do so without delay,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at his swearing-in ceremony on May 2. State Department flack Heather Nauert gave it a different twist the following day at a press briefing: “Because the State Department—the government—likes acronyms so much, we’ve got a new one: CVID – complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization. That is our policy and that is the policy of Secretary Pompeo.”
What happened to the middle two letters of that acronym in the past five weeks? Those two letters—signifying a “verifiable” and “irreversible” drawdown of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program—seem pretty crucial! And an unnamed reporter, doing what reporters do, asked Pompeo about it during a press availability at a hotel in Seoul on Wednesday. He responded in a totally normal way for someone who’s not at all defensive about a deal sold as a major foreign policy achievement.
Here is the exchange, as laid out in a transcript published by the State Department (emphasis mine throughout):
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I wanted to ask you about “verifiable and irreversible.”
SECRETARY POMPEO: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: You said – the day before you said it’s our only objective, our – it’s clear we want that. It’s not in the statement. Why it’s not in the statement? And the President said it will —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Mm-hmm, it’s in the statement. It’s in the statement. You’re just wrong about that.
QUESTION: How is it in the statement? And I am also —
SECRETARY POMPEO: You’re just – because “complete” encompasses verifiable and irreversible. It just – I suppose we – you could argue semantics, but let me assure you that it’s in the document.
(Narrator: It’s not in the document.)
QUESTION: And the President said it will be verified.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Of course it will.
QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit more about —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Of course it will. I mean —
QUESTION: — what is – what discussed about how?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Just so you know, you could ask me this – I find that question insulting and ridiculous and, frankly, ludicrous. I just have to be honest with you. It’s a game and one ought not play games with serious matters like this.
Insulting! Ridiculous! Ludicrous! All words that are not “verifiable” and “irreversible,” which I’m still unable to locate in the statement. More importantly, we haven’t gotten any explanation from the U.S. government, anywhere, as to how it will verify a North Korean denuclearization and ensure that it is, in fact, irreversible. Secretary Pompeo, can you help?
QUESTION: But how will it be verified? Did you discuss that? Do you have —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Oh, we’re – they’re – the modalities are beginning to develop. There’ll be a great deal of work to do. It’s – there’s a long way to go, there’s much to think about, but don’t say silly things. No, don’t, don’t. It’s not productive. It’s not productive to do that, to say silly things. It’s just – it’s unhelpful.
QUESTION: Well, I think —
SECRETARY POMPEO: It’s unhelpful for your readers, your listeners, for the world. It’s – because it doesn’t remotely reflect the American position or the understandings that the North Koreans have either.
QUESTION: We’re just trying to understand how it reflects what you asked that —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, and I just articulated that for you.
Hear that? The “modalities [for making sure a murderous and reclusive regime destroys its main bargaining chip in foreign policy] are beginning to develop.” Questions about why these weren’t detailed in the agreement Trump signed—before he signed it—are “silly.” Luckily we have good people up top to “articulate” this position.