US and North Korea ‘holding secret talks’ ahead of meeting

CIA chief Mike Pompeo is leading preparations, CNN reports

US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will meet by May, South Korea's national security chief said after briefing White House officials on talks between Seoul and Pyongyang. Video: Reuters


The United States and North Korea are reportedly holding secret, high-level talks ahead of a planned meeting next month between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

According to CNN, the talks are being led by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Mike Pompeo, using intelligence back channels, and his team has met North Korean officials in a third country.

CNN cited sources saying that Ulan Bator in Mongolia has been suggested as a possible neutral location for the meeting, although the North Koreans have been pushing to hold the talks in their capital, Pyongyang.

The talks will lay the groundwork for a meeting between Mr Pompeo and his North Korea counterpart, who is the head of the Reconnaissance General Bureau.

The North has said it is willing to hold “candid” talks with the United States to bring about denuclearisation of the peninsula and normalise ties, although Mr Trump has called for more concrete steps toward denuclearisation before the meeting takes place.

The proposed meeting has been read as a sign of easing tensions, but it is not clear what will emerge from a meeting between the two leaders.

The lines of dialogue between North and South Korea were reopened in January for the first time in two years, culminating in the North Koreans attending the Winter Olympics.

North Korea has been under heavy UN Security Council sanctions since it staged a series of nuclear tests and missile launches in defiance of international pressure to abandon its atomic programme.

Mr Pompeo is currently awaiting confirmation as secretary of state in the coming weeks. A trusted adviser of Mr Trump, Mr Pompeo will assume responsibility for the diplomatic preparations for the talks once he is confirmed by the senate as secretary of state.

Matthew Pottinger, the top Asia official on the National Security Council, is also involved in co-ordinating the talks, and John Bolton, who will take over the role as Mr Trump’s principal adviser on national security, is also expected to play a major role in planning the summit meeting.

The back-channel talks are the latest move in a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at resolving the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula.

South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, is due to meet Mr Kim in the joint security area of Panmunjom on April 27th for what will be only the third summit between the two Koreas since the peninsula was divided at the end of the Korean War (1950-53).

The Chinese government has briefed the White House after a meeting in Beijing between Mr Kim and President Xi Jinping late last month. That visit was Mr Kim’s first outside North Korea since he took over the leadership following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in 2011.

In a separate report, a US think-tank says North Korea may have started testing a new reactor.

The Institute for Science and International Security said the experimental light water reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex was showing signs of activity.

Pyongyang has not carried out any nuclear or missile tests since November.