Pompeo in Malaysia for Talks on Free Trade, North Korea

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Malaysia, the first stop of an Asia tour expected to focus on promoting free trade and pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

During his visit Pompeo will press countries to keep up pressure on North Korea via sanctions, according to a senior State Department official who briefed reporters during the flight to Kuala Lumpur.

“We do have concerns about North Korea bypassing some of those sanctions, not adhering to its own obligations, so the secretary will use these opportunities to remind all of that obligation to stick to the sanctions as a means to get to the ultimate objective: the fully verified, finally fully verified denuclearization of North Korea,” the official said.

Since President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June, U.S. officials have been optimistic that Pyongyang will give up its nuclear weapons, though there is no evidence the North has begun that process.

Concerns over ongoing nuclear and missile activity in North Korea surged after The Washington Post reported Tuesday that U.S. intelligence officials believe Pyongyang is continuing to build new missiles in the same research facility it used to build intercontinental missiles capable of reaching the East Coast of the United States.

During his meetings with ASEAN counterparts in Singapore later this week, Pompeo is also expected to discuss conflicts in the South China Sea, the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine state in Myanmar, and cybersecurity.

Pompeo landed Thursday in Malaysia. He is the first senior U.S. official to visit Malaysia since Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was took office following a May election dubbed “quite historic” by a senior State Department official.

“We take note of the fact that for the first time in Malaysia’s history an election has gone to an opposition coalition. That says a lot for governance and democracy,” the senior State Department official added.

Ahead of his trip, Pompeo announced $113 million in new regional investments for the Indo-Pacific focused on technology, energy and infrastructure. It is seen by many as an attempt to reassure U.S. allies of Washington’s commitment to the region, especially after pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.

On his way back to Washington, Pompeo will stop in Jakarta, Indonesia, to meet with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to reaffirm the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with world’s third-largest democracy.

(VOA’s William Gallo contributed to this story.)

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