CIA Director Mike Pompeo travelled to North Korea to meet with Kim Jong Un in advance of a possible summit on denuclearisation, President Donald Trump said.
“Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed,” Trump said in a Twitter posting Wednesday morning. “Details of Summit are being worked out now. Denuclearisation will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!”
Pompeo — who’s awaiting confirmation as secretary of state — is the highest-ranking US official to visit the isolated nation since former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2000.
The trip comes as the two sides discuss potential sites for the unprecedented meeting between the US and North Korean leaders, which Trump said could come by “early June or before.” The US president told reporters that the administration had “started talking to North Korea directly” and was discussing five potential sites for the meeting. “We have had direct talks at very high levels, extremely high levels with North Korea,” Trump said, after meeting Japanese PM Shinzo Abe at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
“It makes the proposed summit all the more likely to happen,” said Suzanne DiMaggio, director and senior fellow at New America in New York, who facilitated the talks in Oslo that resulted in ailing US citizen Otto Warmbier’s release from North Korea. “It is reassuring that the Trump administration is taking serious steps to prepare for that historic interaction.”
The Pompeo trip, which was first reported by the Washington Post, is part of a global diplomatic scramble after Trump’s March 8 decision to meet Kim to break the decades-long impasse over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.
Pompeo’s clandestine visit is reminiscent of then National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger’s secret diplomatic mission to Beijing in 1971. Those trips laid the groundwork for President Richard Nixon’s unexpected visit to China the following year, which paved the way to opening up the country.
The Central Intelligence Agency chief arrived in North Korea just days after Kim returned from his own surprise visit to Beijing — his first trip outside the country since taking power in 2011.
Bloomberg had earlier reported that a “very senior” US official spoke directly with Kim, bypassing third parties, citing a person familiar with the matter.
Direct US contact with Kim is “a pretty dramatic development,” said Adam Mount, a senior fellow with the Federation of American Scientists. “Before the summit can happen, talks have to happen at a very high level” to set an agenda and other details, Mount said.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump hasn’t spoken directly with the North Korean leader. Pompeo, who earlier this year expressed a desire to “separate” North Korea from its regime, told senators considering his nomination as secretary of state last week that there was more room for diplomacy before considering military strikes.
The US has picked five sites for the Kim meeting, Trump told reporters, saying an announcement would come “fairly soon.” Locations being discussed with North Korea include Geneva and venues in Asia and Southeast Asia, a person familiar with the talks told Bloomberg.
The person said the US wasn’t considering Beijing, Pyongyang, Seoul or Panmunjom, the site of the Korean armistice signing in 1953. South Korean President Moon Jae-in is scheduled to meet Kim at Panmunjom next week, the first trip south of the border by a North Korean leader.
Moon’s planned on April 27 encounter with Kim is expected to lay the ground for Trump’s meeting. Trump said he had given Moon his “blessing” to negotiate a peace deal with North Korea, which never formally ended its war with South Korea after agreeing to end open hostilities 65 years ago.