1 of 5 | Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that China interfered with nuclear negotiations between Washington and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Photo by KCNA/UPI | License Photo
July 13 (UPI) -- Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that China wields heavy influence over North Korea and blamed Chinese President Xi Jinping for standing in the way of Washington's efforts at making progress on denuclearization.
"The Chinese Communist Party is controlling what Chairman Kim [Jong Un] does," Pompeo said. "His degrees of freedom are deeply limited."
The former top diplomat claimed that Beijing doesn't want Pyongyang to denuclearize because it "benefits from Chairman Kim continuing to hold his nuclear weapons."
"The Chinese Communist Party understands that North Korea is an important buffer state for them," Pompeo said. "It distracts the United States of America and they know that we have to spend resources to defend against North Korean nuclear weapons systems."
Pompeo made the comments during a video interview presented at the Asian Leadership Conference in Seoul, an annual summit hosted by the Chosun Ilbo newspaper.
The 58-year-old was deeply involved in diplomatic engagement between Washington and Pyongyang under the administration of former President Donald Trump. As CIA director and then Secretary of State, Pompeo met personally with Kim Jong Un on several occasions and helped coordinate a trio of Trump-Kim summits in 2018 and 2019.
Pompeo described Kim as "savvy" and said that he believed the North Korean leader was genuinely interested in giving up his weapons in exchange for greater economic engagement, but claimed that China's Xi interfered directly in the diplomatic process.
"Not a single one of the meetings that I had with Chairman Kim, nor any meeting that President Trump had with Chairman Kim was not preceded by [Kim] meeting with Xi Jinping," Pompeo said.
"There were times I had serious conversations with Chairman Kim only to find that right after my departure, a call from Xi Jinping came in and said: 'Don't you dare head down that path with that Secretary of State.'"
Pompeo did not indicate the source of the intelligence about the calls from Xi.
For its part, Beijing has publicly spoken out in favor of denuclearization and has participated in past U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea after its nuclear and long-range missile tests.
Last month, China's ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador Zhang Jun, said in remarks to the General Assembly that Beijing "has always insisted on maintaining peace and stability on the Peninsula [and on] achieving a denuclearized Peninsula."
At the same time, China remains North Korea's primary ally and trading partner and in May joined Russia in vetoing a U.S.-led Security Council resolution to impose additional sanctions on Pyongyang over a spate of ballistic missile launches.
"There were many times that I was convinced that Chairman Kim himself believed that the right path forward was the one that we were offering, but that it was in fact Xi Jinping that was operating him," Pompeo said. "In some ways, you can look at the North Korean nuclear weapons as simply an extension of the Chinese nuclear weapons program."
Negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang stalled after a 2019 summit in Hanoi ended without an agreement. North Korea has conducted a flurry of missile launches in 2022 and appears poised to conduct its seventh nuclear test, according to officials in the United States and South Korea.
Pompeo on Wednesday called for increased enforcement of sanctions against North Korea in order to force Kim Jong Un's hand in denuclearization. He praised recently inaugurated South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol for staking out a harder line against Pyongyang than his predecessor Moon Jae-in.
"The right answer is to continue to impose as many costs as you can on North Korea in a way that convinces Chairman Kim to make this historic change that would be better for him and better for his own people," Pompeo said. "It was the model that we used. I think the new leadership in South Korea understands that as well. And I hope they can urge the U.S. leadership to begin to engage in this as well."
The former congressman has traveled extensively this year campaigning for Republicans in November's midterm elections and has hinted at running for president in 2024. On Wednesday Pompeo said that he is still weighing his options and would make an announcement in the next several months.
"My wife and I haven't made the decision yet," he said. "By the beginning of next year, we will make that decision."