Pompeo trip to N Korea lays basis for Kim-Trump meeting

Upcoming talks are the highest-level meeting in decades between the two states

US president Donald Trump has said he will "respectfully leave" his upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un if he feels "it is not going to be fruitful." Video: The White House

 

Preparations are under way for a groundbreaking summit between the leaders of the United States and North Korea as the White House confirmed CIA director Mike Pompeo had travelled to the North Korean capital to meet Kim Jong-un in recent weeks.

In an extraordinary development, Mr Pompeo, who is expected to succeed Rex Tillerson as US secretary of state pending Senate confirmation, flew to Pyongyang to meet Mr Kim.

US president Donald Trump confirmed the visit on Twitter. “Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong-un in North Korea last week,” he said, adding that the meeting went “very smoothly and a good relationship was formed”.

“Details of Summit are being worked out now. Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!” he tweeted.

While Mr Trump referred to the visit taking place “last week”, various US media outlets, quoting official sources, said the visit took place over the Easter weekend.

The meeting between Mr Pompeo and Mr Kim represents the highest-level meeting between the two countries in decades. Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright met the then North Korean ruler, Kim Jong-il – Mr Kim’s father – in 2000.

Possible dialogue

The US president addressed the planned summit during a two-day meeting with Japanese leader Shinzo Abe in Mar-a-Lago in Florida. While he praised South Korea’s efforts in facilitating possible dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang during a press conference with Mr Abe late on Tuesday, he added that “without us, and without me in particular, I guess, they wouldn’t be discussing anything and the Olympics would have been a failure”.

Mr Trump was referring to the winter games that took place in the South Korean city of PyeongChang in February – a key moment in the thawing of relations that has unfolded in recent months between North Korea and the international community, after a North Korean delegation attended the games.

Mr Trump said the summit was likely to place in early June, and that five possible locations – all outside the United States – were being considered. “There’s a great chance to solve a world problem. This is not a problem for the United States. This is not a problem for Japan or any other country. This is a problem for the world,” he said.

‘Very strong path’

But he also warned the meeting might not take place: “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.”

The possible meeting between Mr Trump and Kim Jong-un follows months of tension between the two leaders, with the US president warning North Korea that the country would face “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it intensified its nuclear activity.

Mr Pompeo’s covert visit to Pyongyang is a growing sign of his increasing influence within the Trump administration, as well as the role of the CIA in the United States’s North Korean strategy.

Mr Pompeo, a former Republican congressman, faces tough exchanges when he appears before the Senate foreign relations committee for confirmation. Two Democrats who backed his CIA nomination have indicated that they will not endorse him for secretary of state.

But White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway called on all senators to back Mr Pompeo’s nomination, saying it was “vital to ensuring the safety, security and prosperity of the American people”.

Mr Abe, who faces domestic political challenges, continued his meetings with Mr Trump on Wednesday in Florida where the two men played a round of golf.

This week’s visit is his second to Mar-a-Lago. He was also the first foreign leader to meet Mr Trump following the 2016 US election, when he travelled to Trump Tower in New York to meet the president-designate.