Mike Pompeo, head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), made a secret visit to North Korea over Easter weekend and met with its leader Kim Jong-un, the Washington Post has reported, citing two officials.
The news of the visit came after US president Donald Trump said yesterday (April 17) that the US is in “high level” talks with North Korea, speaking from his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, where he is hosting Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. Pompeo, who is also Trump’s nominee to be his next secretary of state, was laying the groundwork for talks between Trump and Kim that could take place as soon as May or June this year. If they happen, it would be a first between leaders of the US and North Korea.
“We have not picked a site yet, but we’ve picked five sites where it’s potentially going to be,” Trump said yesterday. “We’ve also started talking to North Korea directly. We’ve had direct talks at very high levels, extremely high levels, with North Korea. I really believe there’s a lot of good will, good things are happening, we’ll see what happens.”
Trump said in March that he would meet directly with Kim, a surprise announcement after the two leaders traded worryingly hawkish barbs at each other, and North Korea conducted its biggest ever nuclear test. But things changed markedly following New Year’s Day remarks from Kim in which he signaled interest in participating in the Winter Olympics in South Korea.
In early March, South Korean officials went to Washington to deliver an invitation for a meeting from Kim, leading to Trump’s announcement. The development marked the culmination of behind-the-scenes diplomacy spearheaded by South Korean president Moon Jae-in (paywall) and the International Olympics Committee.
Pompeo’s visit comes the same month as the leaders of South and North Korea will sit down for talks on April 27, the first such summit since 2007.
Next week’s summit will also be preceded by the installation of a hotline between the leaders of the two Koreas that could be implemented as early as Friday (April 20). South Korean officials also confirmed today (April 18) that the two sides could announce a formal end to their state of war at the summit, replacing the armistice signed in 1953 with a peace treaty.
Skeptics warn that the world has been here before, with both Koreas at the 2007 summit promising to work toward a permanent peace treaty. Relations deteriorated within a year. Meanwhile, the six-party talks also going on at the time stalled in 2008 over North Korea’s reluctance to allow weapons inspectors to take samples out of the country for testing.