Thursday 17 January 2019

CIA chief meets Kim in secret to set up summit with Trump

CIA director Mike Pompeo, left, held a secret meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over Easter ahead of a possible summit with US President Donald Trump, right, in either May or June. Photo: Reuters
CIA director Mike Pompeo, left, held a secret meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over Easter ahead of a possible summit with US President Donald Trump, right, in either May or June. Photo: Reuters

Nicola Smith

CIA director Mike Pompeo made a secret trip to North Korea over the Easter weekend to lay the groundwork for an unprecedented upcoming summit between Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump.

The unexpected and clandestine meeting is believed to have taken place on April 1, the same day Mr Kim was also welcoming a delegation of K-pop stars to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

Mr Trump confirmed the secret visit to Pyongyang in a tweet yesterday, saying: "Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed. Details of summit are being worked out now."

The revelation, broken by the 'Washington Post', that the secretary of state nominee met with the reclusive North Korean leader is the strongest confirmation to date that the historic face-to-face meeting of the two leaders will go ahead, possibly in late May or early June.

Very little is known about Mr Pompeo's discussions, although a major practical sticking point remains the question of where the summit will be held.

Multiple locations have been touted, including the borderzone between South and North Korea, Singapore, Geneva, Stockholm and Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar.

The North Koreans are said to prefer a location closer to home, while the Americans would rather avoid creating the perception of Mr Trump going cap in hand to Mr Kim on his home turf in Pyongyang.

Mr Pompeo's visit is the highest level US meeting with a North Korean leader since then-secretary of state Madeleine Albright met with Kim Jong-il in 2000.

The CIA director did not take any White House officials with him on the trip, only intelligence officials, reported CNN.

An official source told the news channel that the North Korean leader was "personable and well prepared".

The conversation fuelled Mr Trump's belief that productive negotiations were possible with the North Koreans, but far from guaranteed, according to an official briefed on the trip, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Mr Trump had alluded to the meeting on Tuesday, revealing the US was engaged in direct talks with North Korea at "extremely high levels", during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his Florida resort of Mar-a-Lago.

"I truly believe there is a lot of good will. A lot of things are happening. Good things," he said. "We'll see what happens because it's the end result that counts, not the fact we're thinking about having a meeting."

Mr Trump added that five possible venues were being discussed, but also threw in the caveat that the extraordinary plan may not happen at all.

"It's possible things won't go well and we won't have the meetings, and we'll just continue to go along this very strong path that we've taken," the US president said. "But we'll see what happens."

The planned US-North Korea summit will be preceded by another historic meeting between Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the highly militarised border between the nations next Friday.

Their talks will set the tone for possible concessions on all sides over the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. The neighbouring countries are also said to be discussing plans to announce an official end to their 68-year-old conflict.

The two nations are still technically at war as a peace treaty was never signed to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-1953 Korean War.

Frantic planning is still under way for next week's summit. South Korea's presidential office said yesterday that North and South Korea had agreed to broadcast parts of it live.

Kim Jong-un may have a busy schedule over the coming months as he experiences a rapid transition from being an international pariah last year during a barrage of missile tests, to becoming one of the most sought-after world leaders.

CNN reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping also plans to visit Pyongyang soon.

Russia has reportedly also requested a personal summit with Mr Kim. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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