WEST BEACH: Donald Trump confirmed on Wednesday that his CIA chief took part in secret talks in North Korea, the most significant sign that an improbable summit between the US president and Kim Jong-un would go ahead.
News of the encounter between the reclusive Kim and Mike Pompeo — Trump’s pick to be America’s next secretary of state — was the latest in a series of revelations from the US leader that have fuelled hopes of a major diplomatic breakthrough with Pyongyang.
“Mike Pompeo met Kim Jong-un in North Korea last week. Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed,” Trump tweeted, capping the latest twist in a detente in the decades-old nuclear standoff.
“Details of summit are being worked out now,” added the president, who is hosting Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for two days of talks at his golf resort in Florida.
Neither Trump nor the White House offered details of what was discussed and it remains unclear if there is enough potential for an agreement to have the Trump-Kim summit, slated for early June, go ahead.
Officials and outside experts say it is still not clear that Kim, who depends on the military to remain in power, is willing to give up nuclear weapons.
North Korean talk of “denuclearisation” — which Trump has embraced uncritically — has in the past been code for removing America’s military presence on the Korean peninsula, something long unthinkable in Washington.
“Denuclearisation will be a great thing for world, but also for North Korea!” Trump added in the tweet.
Nonetheless, the flurry of diplomatic activity has raised hopes for a pair of upcoming and potentially historic summits.
Kim is expected to meet South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In at a landmark meeting next Friday where discussion of a peace declaration is now on the cards.
Seoul’s push to formally declare an end to inter-Korean hostilities, which at the moment are subject only to an armistice, would have been unthinkable just months ago.
Trump earlier said that the summit could, with his “blessing”, explore a peace treaty to formally end the conflict.
“We are looking at the possibility of replacing the armistice regime on the Korean peninsula with a peace regime,” a senior official at South Korea’s presidential Blue House said on Wednesday. “But this is not something we can do by ourselves. It needs close discussions with relevant parties including North Korea.”
The 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving the two sides technically at war. The Demilitarised Zone between them bristles with minefields and fortifications. But reaching any final treaty would be fraught with complications.
“The peace treaty is a very difficult problem,” said Koo Kab-woo, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.
While the US-led United Nations command, China and North Korea are signatories to the decades-old armistice, South Korea is not.
Both Pyongyang and Seoul claim sovereignty over the whole Korean peninsula, but a treaty could imply mutual recognition of each other.
Next week’s meeting will be just the third summit between the North and South since the armistice was signed 65 years ago. Trump himself plans to hold a summit meeting with Kim within the next two months.