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CIA chief made secret trip to North Korea, met Kim Jong Un: Reports

CIA director Mike Pompeo travelled to Pyongyang around the April 1 weekend to and met with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un. US President Donald Trump said the two countries are holding direct talks at “extremely high levels”.

world Updated: Apr 18, 2018 22:53 IST
Yashwant Raj
A combination photo shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (left) in Pyongyang, North Korea, and US President Donald Trump in Palm Beach, Florida, US. The summit meeting between the two leaders is expected to be held is sometime around June.
A combination photo shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (left) in Pyongyang, North Korea, and US President Donald Trump in Palm Beach, Florida, US. The summit meeting between the two leaders is expected to be held is sometime around June.(Reuters File Photos)

A top US intelligence chief secretly travelled to North Korea over the Easter weekend to meet Kim Jong Un and prepare the ground for a meeting with President Donald Trump, according to unidentified officials cited by multiple media outlets.

Trump first alluded to that meeting in remarks at a news briefing with visiting Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, when he said, “We’ve also started talking to North Korea directly. We have had direct talks at very high levels – extremely high levels – with North Korea.”

But he shared no other details, except that he hoped to meet the North Korean leader “probably in early June or a little before” and that five venues are being considered for the summit. The meeting will be closely followed world over, New Delhi included, as the outcome will have global ramifications.

CIA director Mike Pompeo’s meeting Kim marks the first such high-level interaction since 2000, when then secretary of state Madeleine Albright travelled to meet late Kim Jong-il, the current leader’s father.

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That President Trump despatched Pompeo to meet Kim is further indication that he has tended to use US intelligence to conduct talks and negotiations with the North Korean leadership. Pompeo remains CIA director till he is confirmed in his next assignment as secretary of state.

The CIA has been working with its North Korean counterpart, Reconnaissance Intelligence Bureau. Pompeo has also been in touch with the director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, Suh Hoon, who, according to official cited by The New York Times, brokered Kim’s invitation to Trump.

No details were available of Pompeo’s visit, but before The Washington Post first reported on it, the White House had said in a statement seeking to explain the president’s remarks about talks at the highest levels and that “they were not with him directly”. It was Pompeo, it turned out, but there was no official confirmation of it by the White House or the CIA.

President Trump seems keen to address the Korean question. On Tuesday he said, “I look forward to meeting with Kim Jong Un. And hopefully that will be a success. And maybe it will be, and maybe it won’t be. We don’t know. But we’ll see what happens. But I can say this: They do respect us. We are respectful of them.”

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The president also referred to talks between South Korea and North Korea and said they had his “blessing” to end the war that is still on, 65 years after an armistice ended the fighting in 1953. The two countries, and their respective backers China and Russia on one side and the United States and Japan on the other, never signed a peace agreement.

A peace treaty is not a new idea. The United State and North Korea discussed it in the 1990s and 2005, but the main stumbling block has been Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal and its reluctance to give it up. This time around, Kim has reportedly assured the US and South Korea he is willing to discuss denuclearisation, which Trump had insisted upon as a condition for agreeing to talks. But willingness to discuss is not the same thing as giving it up, experts have said.

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