Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said Sunday that he concluded a “productive” meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, calling it another “step forward” in tortuous talks to dismantle the East Asian nation’s nuclear arsenal.
Pompeo provided no details but also said the talks focused on preparations for a second summit between Kim and President Donald Trump. The first, in June in Singapore, produced a vague declaration that has formed the basis for continuing, but fitful, negotiations.
“There are many steps along the way, and we took one of those today,” Pompeo said in Seoul in brief public comments alongside South Korean President Moon Jae-in. “It was another step forward.”
Trump, meanwhile, tweeted his approval and said he would “look forward to seeing Chairman Kim again, in the near future.”
Pompeo flew to Seoul after about four hours in Pyongyang that included lunch with Kim. He also went to Tokyo, and from Seoul is scheduled to continue to Beijing, as he attempts to advise regional governments on his efforts and ensure support, or in the case of China, shore it up.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert added that Pompeo and Kim “refined options for the location and date of that next summit.”
Kim invited inspectors to visit the Punggye-ri nuclear test site to confirm that it has been irreversibly dismantled, Nauert added in a statement.
But the statement made no mention of Yongbyon, North Korea’s vast main nuclear facility. The South Korean government was encouraging the North to offer to dismantle part of Yongbyon, in exchange for the United States issuing a formal declaration of the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, as “confidence-building” measures.
The U.S., however, has been reluctant to issue such a declaration, concerned that could undermine its military presence in the region.
The U.S.-North Korea dealings have failed to produce significant steps in disarming North Korea. Critics have said it is important for talks to produce more than statements of “commitments” that are not backed by actions. And some experts wonder whether Kim is willing to deal, or allow his people to deal, with anyone but Trump.
Nauert, who is traveling with Pompeo, said he and Kim agreed to instruct their working-level teams to meet quickly “to intensify discussions on the key remaining issues.”
It was Pompeo’s fourth trip to Pyongyang and third time he has met with Kim. In the most recent July trip, Kim did not receive Pompeo, and the North Korean accused the secretary of making “gangsterlike” demands.
Officials traveling with Pompeo said this weekend’s encounter was improved over the last one, but tough outstanding issues remained.
Pompeo was joined in the meeting by Stephen Biegun, special representative for the Koreas, and Andy Kim, who heads the CIA’s Korea Mission Center. Kim Jong Un was joined by his sister Kim Yo Jong, first vice director of the Korean Workers’ Party central committee.
There seemed to be a few hiccups upon arrival. Pompeo was told he could have only three people accompany him to the meeting, and no interpreter, so his interpreter had to get out of the car. (Andy Kim speaks Korean; he, Biegun and a security official went along.)
North Korean officials told reporters they were surprised that Kim invited Pompeo to lunch. It was a sumptuous affair, with ornate dishes and cutlery. (Although the menu was not disclosed, lesser members of the delegations, along with reporters who were covering the event, were given steak, fois gras and chocolate cake.)
Kim spoke to Pompeo as the two entered the dining room, the only time an American reporter was allowed to be present while the two were together.
“Well, I am really pleased for this opportunity after having a nice meeting, we can enjoy a meal together,” Kim said to Pompeo through an interpreter.
“This will be great,” Pompeo said, warning Kim not to trip over photographers.
“So is everything OK?” Kim asked Pompeo.
“Everything is great,” Pompeo replied. “Everything is great. I am very much looking forward to our time together too.”
“Well as I said before, it’s a very nice day that promises a good future,” Kim said, “for both countries.”