WASHINGTON / PALM BEACH, Fla (Reuters) – US Secretary of State and CIA Director Mike Pompeo made a secret visit to North Korea on Easter weekend and met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over a planned summit with US President Donald Trump US officials said Tuesday.
Pompeo's voyage made him the highest ranking US official ever to meet with Kim and give Trump's best signal of his willingness to become the first US president to ever meet a North Korean leader.
Pompeo's talks fueled Trump's conviction that productive negotiations with North Korea on his nuclear and ballistic missile programs were possible, but by no means guaranteed, according to a high-ranking US official briefed on the trip.
The visit, said a second US official, was arranged by South Korean intelligence chief Suh Hoon with his North Korean counterpart Kim Yong Chol to assess whether Kim is ready to engage in serious talks.
Pompeo, one of Trump's most trusted advisers, returned to report that it was worth pursuing the possibility of a summit, but added that no location had been selected from option lists and consequently no logistical arrangements had been made be far, said the second official. Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Trump said on Tuesday that the United States had been engaged in direct talks at "extremely high levels" with North Korea to attempt a summit between him and Kim.
He sows some confusion by suggesting that he had spoken directly with Kim, but later clarified, saying, "Let's leave it a little bit from the highest level."
Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders added, "The President said that the government has held talks at the highest level and added that they are not directly with him."
Asked about Pompeo, she said, "The government is commenting not for the CIA director's trip. "
Pompeo reassured his Senate This week, when he held the post of foreign minister, he was optimistic that a Trump-Kim summit would set a course for diplomatic dealings with North Korea but added that nobody had the illusion that a comprehensive agreement could be reached.
Pompeo said the summit's goal was "an agreement … so that the North Korean leadership will turn away from its efforts to endanger America with nuclear weapons" and that Pyongyang should not expect any rewards until it becomes irreversible.
Pompeo's journey made him the longest-serving US official ever to visit North Korea ̵
The news came after Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe opened two-day presidential talks had. A-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Florida.
Trump said he believed that the diplomatic push with North Korea was well-intentioned, but added that the summit – which was first proposed in March and the president could take place in late May or early June – may not happen.
Efforts to arrange the unprecedented meeting have helped alleviate 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 think there is a lot of goodwill, a lot of good things happen," Trump told reporters.
"As I always say, we'll see what happens because ultimately the bottom line counts, not the fact that we're thinking about having a meeting or having a meeting."
Trump, who issued a martial threat to Kim last year, said US officials had looked at five locations for a meeting. When Trump was asked if any of them were in the United States, he replied, "No."
A US official said there were posts in Southeast Asia and Europe, among others. Kim seldom left North Korea.
The speculation focuses on a number of areas, including Pyongyang, the demilitarized zone between the Koreas, Stockholm, Geneva and Mongolia.
Talks between Trump and Abe are largely focused on the upcoming summit, as Japan demands an American commitment that a denuclearization agreement with Kim includes not only long-range missiles but also those that could target Japan.
The Trump Abe Meetings reflected the closeness of their gang and included a walk through the carefully maintained grounds of the beach club and dinner on the patio with her wives. A round of golf was scheduled for Wednesday.
"For the North Korean question, I would like to underline the importance of achieving complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization and abandonment of missile programs in North Korea," Abe said to Trump.
Abe also received an agreement from Trump to discuss the issue of North Korean kidnapped Japanese nationals, which is a highly emotional issue for the Japanese.
"IT IS POSSIBLE THAT IT IS NOT GOING GOOD"
Trump emphasized that he and Abe were in agreement.
"Japan and ourselves are closed and we are very united with North Korea," he said.
Trump said it was possible that diplomatic efforts to arrange for a Kim summit would fail, and if that did not happen, the US and its allies would put pressure on Pyongyang to impose sanctions.
"It's possible that things will not go well and we will not have the meetings and we'll just keep going on this very strong path we took," he said.
Trump also supported efforts between South Korea and the North aimed at ending a state of war that has existed between the two countries since 1953.
"People do not realize that the Korean War is not over, it's just going on and they are discussing an end to the war, and unless they have a deal, they have my blessing and they have my blessing to discuss it," he said ,
Trump and Abe could use a successful summit to get a political boost at home. Trump has been the subject of controversy surrounding an investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US election, and Abe is struggling with decreasing popularity over scandals over alleged nepotism.
Trump has had close ties to Abe during his 15-month tenure, and the two teamed up to make Tokyo last during Abe's last visit to Florida more than a year ago and Trump's visit November.
Japan fears that Trump will try to combine important security issues with sensitive trade issues. Tokyo is anxious not to enter into talks on a bilateral free trade agreement that targets not only market access but also monetary policy, something that South Korea has recently accepted in renegotiating a trade agreement with the US.
Another irritant effect of trade is that, unlike the European Union, Canada and Mexico, Japan has not been exempted from tariffs on steel and aluminum exports to the United States.
Steve Holland's coverage in West Palm Beach, Florida and John Walcott in Washington; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington and Linda Sieg, Kaori Kaneko and Stanley White in Tokyo; Arrangement by James Dalgleish, Peter Cooney and Lisa Shumaker