Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo (File Photo: Gao Shi/People's Daily)
US Secretary of State nominee and CIA Director Mike Pompeo made a secret visit to North Korea over the Easter weekend and met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to discuss a planned summit with US President Donald Trump, US officials said on Tuesday.
Pompeo's trip made him the most senior US official ever known to have met with Kim and provided the strongest sign yet to Trump's willingness to become the first serving US president ever to meet a North Korean leader.
Pompeo's conversations fueled Trump’s belief that productive negotiations were possible with North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, but far from guaranteed, according to a US senior official briefed on the trip.
The visit, a second US official said, was arranged by South Korean intelligence chief Suh Hoon with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yong-chol, and was intended to assess whether Kim was prepared to hold serious talks.
Pompeo, one of Trump's most trusted advisers, returned to report that it was worth continuing to pursue the possibility of a summit, but added that no site had been selected from lists of options, and consequently no logistical arrangements had been made so far, the second official said. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity.
Trump said earlier on Tuesday the United States was engaged in direct talks at "extremely high levels" with North Korea to try to set up a summit between him and Kim.
He sowed some confusion by suggesting he had been speaking to Kim directly, but later clarified by saying: "Let's leave it a little bit short of the highest level."
Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders added: "The president said the administration has had talks at the highest levels and added that they were not with him directly.”
Asked about Pompeo, she said: “The administration does not comment on the CIA director’s travel.”
Pompeo told his Senate confirmation hearing for the post of secretary of state this week he was optimistic a course could be set at a Trump-Kim summit for a diplomatic outcome with North Korea, but added that no one was under any illusion that a comprehensive deal could be reached at that meeting.
Pompeo said the aim of the summit would be “an agreement ... such that the North Korean leadership will step away from its efforts to hold America at risk with nuclear weapons” and that Pyongyang should not expect rewards until it takes irreversible steps.
Pompeo's trip made him the most senior US official to visit North Korea since then-intelligence chief James Clapper in 2014.
The news came after Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe opened two days of talks at the president's Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Florida.
Trump said he believed there was a lot of goodwill in the diplomatic push with North Korea, but added it was possible the summit – first proposed in March and which the president said could take place in late May or early June – may not happen.
Efforts to arrange the unprecedented meeting have helped ease tensions over Pyongyang's development of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States. Kim has agreed to discuss denuclearization, according to US and South Korean officials.
"I really believe there’s a lot of goodwill; a lot of good things are happening," Trump told reporters.
"As I always say, we’ll see what happens, because ultimately it’s the end result that matters, not the fact that we’re thinking about having a meeting or having a meeting."