CIA Director Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea a few weeks ago to meet Kim Jong Un to prepare for a possible summit with President Donald Trump, according to two people familiar with the matter, raising optimism the meeting could produce a deal.
Pompeo — who’s awaiting confirmation as secretary of state — made the secret visit during the weekend of March 31 and April 1, said the people, who asked not to be identified. The trip, which was first reported by the Washington Post, comes ahead of the unprecedented meeting between the U.S. and North Korean leaders, which Trump said Tuesday could come by “early June or before.”
The U.S. president told reporters the administration had “started talking to North Korea directly.” “We have had direct talks at very high levels, extremely high levels with North Korea,” Trump said after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
“It makes the proposed summit all the more likely to happen,” Suzanne DiMaggio, director and senior fellow at New America in New York, who facilitated the talks in Oslo that resulted in ailing U.S. 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 is part of a global diplomatic scramble after Trump’s surprise decision last month to meet Kim in an effort to break the decades-long impasse over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. 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 his country as leader.
Adam Mount, a senior fellow with the Federation of American Scientists, called direct U.S. contact with Kim “a pretty dramatic development.” “Before the summit can happen, talks have to happen at a very high level” to establish an agenda and other details, Mount said.
The U.S. and North Korea are discussing several locations for the Trump-Kim meeting, a person familiar with the talks told Bloomberg earlier. Potential sites include Geneva and several venues in Asia and Southeast Asia, said the official, who declined to further identify the sites.
The person said the U.S. wasn’t considering Beijing, Pyongyang, Seoul or Panmunjom, the site of the Korean armistice signing where South Korean President Moon Jae-in will meet Kim next week.
Moon’s meeting with Kim is expected to lay the ground for Trump’s meeting. The two Koreas are discussing plans to announce an official end to the military conflict between the two countries that are still technically at war, South Korea’s Munhwa Ilbo newspaper reported Tuesday, citing an unidentified South Korean official.
Trump also said he’s given South Korea his “blessing” to negotiate a peace deal with North Korea, and that five locations are under consideration for his meeting with Kim. South Korea never formally ended its war with North Korea, though the armed conflict concluded with a cease-fire in 1953.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump hasn’t spoken directly with the North Korean leader.
Ending a Very Old War
Trump suggested he was responsible not only for the negotiations on a formal peace treaty ending the war, but also the success of this year’s Winter Olympics in South Korea.
“They’ve been very generous that without us and without me in particular, I guess, they wouldn’t be discussing anything and the Olympics would have been a failure,” Trump said. “As you know, North Korea participated in the Olympics and it was really quite an Olympics. It was quite a success. That would not have happened.”
Abe praised Trump’s leadership, saying his “unwavering conviction as well as his determination” has made talks with North Korea possible. He said he hoped that Trump would raise the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea, “a Japanese priority issue,” and Trump said he would.
“We will bring up the abductees. We’ll bring up many different things,” Trump said. “I know that’s been a very big factor for you.”
Trump said he will meet with Kim in “early June or before that assuming things go well.” If they don’t the summit with the North Korean leader might not happen, he added.
“It’s possible things won’t go well and we won’t have the meetings and we’ll just continue to go on this very strong path we have taken,” Trump said.
— With assistance by Isabel Reynolds, Margaret Talev, and David Tweed