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Pompeo berates reporter for question about verifying North Korea denuclearization

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had no answer Wednesday for how the verification of the denuclearization of North Korea might occur, instead berating the reporter who asked the question. 

Speaking to reporters in Seoul, South Korea, in an off-camera briefing, the top U.S. diplomat said a reporter's question was "insulting and ridiculous and frankly ludicrous." In Singapore, President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a document reaffirming Kim's commitment to the South Koreans in April to work towards denuclearization.

In the exchange, Pompeo told the reporter not to say such "silly things."

At the beginning of the back and forth, the reporter, who wasn't identified in the State Department's transcript, pointed out the words "verifiable" and "irreversible," two key demands of the Trump administration on denuclearization, aren't in the document Mr. Trump and Kim signed.

Here's the full exchange:

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.

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.

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.

QUESTION: Okay.

The Trump administration has thus far been sparse on details of how denuclearization might be accomplished, let alone verified. Mr. Trump has offered no timeline.

CBS News chief White House correspondent Major Garrett pointed out in a press conference with Mr. Trump in Singapore that the document signed by Kim doesn't mention the words "verifiable" or "irreversible." Mr. Trump, pressed multiple times, eventually said the verification method would entail "people there" in North Korea.

"Well, it's going to be achieved by having a lot of people there, and as we develop a certain trust," Mr. Trump said. "And we think we have done that. Secretary Pompeo has been really doing a fantastic job -- his staff, everybody. As we do that, we're going to have a lot of people there, and we're going to be working with them on a lot of other things. But this is complete denuclearization of North Korea, and it will be verified."

CBS News' Kylie Atwood contributed to this report

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.