CNN is reporting that the United States and North Korea have been holding secret, direct talks in preparation for a summit meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo and a team of officials have been meeting with their North Korean counterparts to come up with a location for the meeting.
Although the North Korean regime has not publicly declared its invitation by Kim Jong Un to meet with Trump, which was conveyed last month by a South Korean envoy, several officials say North Korea has since acknowledged Trump’s acceptance, and Pyongyang has reaffirmed Kim is willing to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
The North Koreans are pushing to have the meeting in their capital, Pyongyang, the sources said, although it is unclear whether the White House would be willing to hold the talks there. The Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar has also been raised as a possible location, the sources said.
“Only Nixon could go to China” is an old Vulcan proverb as Star Trek fans know. Will “Only Trump could go to Pyongyang” become an equally iconic observation?
The talks between intelligence officials are laying the groundwork for a meeting between Pompeo and his North Korea counterpart, the head of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, in advance of the leaders’ summit. Once a location is agreed upon the officials said that the date will be set and the agenda discussed in greater detail.
Officials said the decision to use the already existing intelligence channel was more a facet of Pompeo’s current status as CIA director as he awaits confirmation as secretary of state than a reflection of the content of the discussions. Pompeo is expected to begin the process of Senate confirmation in the next several weeks.
One of Trump’s most trusted national security advisers, Pompeo has led efforts to prepare for the summit, which Trump has pressed his aides to organize. If he confirmed, he will assume oversight of the diplomatic preparations.
As recently as this weekend, Trump told associates he was looking forward to the summit, which he agreed to on the spot when presented the invitation from Kim. The timeline, however, remains unknown. Officials said the current target is late May or even June.
I don’t think there’s much of a chance that the meeting will take place in the North Korean capital. Not to say we don’t trust the North Koreans to let our president leave if something bad happens, but…well, we don’t trust the North Koreans. Besides, holding the meeting in Pyongyang would give Kim a propaganda boost and elevate his status — a turn of events that Trump certainly doesn’t want.
The diplomats will make sure that the meeting is a success before it even happens so there’s no worry on that score. But there is a real question whether North Korea will be able to claim unquestioned status as a nuclear power — something Kim would dearly love to accomplish and something the U.S. has been opposing for more than a decade.
Will Trump’s mere presence grant Kim his wish? South Korean officials believe that Kim might be willing to reopen de-nuclearization talks. It’s certain that those talks wouldn’t completely succeed, but getting the North to stop testing nuclear devices and limiting their ICBM program might be realistic goals given that the military option is — at least temporarily — off the table.