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Pompeo cancels Senate briefing on North Korea deal

NBC News logo NBC News 6/19/2018 Heidi Przybyla and Abigail Williams
Image: Mike PompeoU.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at an Economic Club of Detroit luncheon in Detroit on June 18, 2018. © Provided by NBCU News Group, a division of NBCUniversal Media LLC Image: Mike PompeoU.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at an Economic Club of Detroit luncheon in Detroit on June 18, 2018.

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo abruptly cancelled a planned Wednesday briefing for all U.S. senators on a deal with North Korea that President Donald Trump has hailed as a breakthrough — even while the details remain vague.

Senate leaders informed lawmakers that the briefing may be rescheduled for next week, though no date has been set, according to aides involved in the scheduling.

Pompeo has also not yet committed to a briefing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the committee of jurisdiction. "We've been going back and forth about the date and subject matter and so forth. Hopefully he'll be here soon," Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker, the committee's chairman, told NBC. "It's always difficult to schedule a secretary of state," Corker added.

The aides all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the leader does not comment on private, all-Senate briefings.

Spokespeople for the State Department did not immediately respond to a request for information on why Pompeo had canceled the Senate briefing.

After Trump became the first U.S. president to meet face-to-face with a North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, in Singapore earlier this month, several members of Congress demanded that Pompeo brief Congress on the details of any agreement. Trump has boasted on Twitter since that meeting that there is "no longer a Nuclear Threat" from North Korea, even though U.S. intelligence has determined that the country is well on its way to developing nuclear weapons and has tested ballistic missiles capable of delivering heavy nuclear warheads to the U.S.

At least one Republican lawmaker on Tuesday echoed Trump's assurances.

"The president's taken us back from the brink of war" as a result of "a successful summit" with North Korea, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told reporters.

Trump recently exited the multi-nation Iran nuclear agreement in part on the premise that former President Obama had entered into it without the approval of Congress. And congressional Republicans said Trump's withdrawal from the Iran deal was justified because Obama should have pursued a Senate-approved treaty.

In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing prior to the Singapore summit, Pompeo vowed that Congress would handle North Korea differently. Specifically, he said: "It is absolutely the case that it is our intention to achieve an agreement that would be put before the United States Senate."

Senate Democratic aides said the cancellation was cause for concern.

"If this is such a great landmark deal, it's troubling they don't want to come and tell us about it," said one aide. Another was more skeptical: "Unless they (Republican leadership) drag him down here he's not going to come."

Pompeo returned early Friday morning after traveling from Singapore, Seoul and Beijing to brief U.S. allies. On Monday he delivered a previously scheduled speech to the Detroit Economic Club.

Trump and Kim signed a joint statement at the summit agreeing to the eventual "complete denuclearization" of the Korean peninsula. But the statement did not include critical commitments the U.S. has insisted upon in the past, including that North Korea commit to "verifiable and irreversible" denuclearization. The agreement also included no timeline of specific actions.

By contrast, Trump agreed to several specific concessions, including a pause in joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises. A planned joint drill by the two countries in August has been canceled.

Trump criticized the Iran deal because it did not allow inspectors to perform inspections anytime and anywhere and because it had an expiration date.

Last Wednesday, Pompeo bristled at reporters seeking clarification on how North Korea's denuclearization would be verified: "Don't say silly things ... It's not productive," he said, calling the question "ludicrous."

Pompeo on Monday said in return for the assurances by North Korea,"the president has committed to making sure that we alter the armistice agreement," which is yet another concession on the part of the U.S. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed the agreement Monday but did not go into any further details on what that may entail.

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