WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. >> President Donald Trump dispatched CIA Director Mike Pompeo to North Korea to meet with its leader, Kim Jong Un, over Easter weekend to lay the groundwork for a summit meeting between Kim and Trump, two people briefed on the secret trip said today.
Trump alluded to Pompeo’s mission when he said during an afternoon news conference that the United States was in direct talks with North Korea at “extremely high levels,” and that the White House was looking at five sites for a potential meeting of the two leaders.
Pompeo, who is awaiting confirmation as secretary of state, has been dealing with North Korean representatives through a channel that runs between the CIA and its North Korean counterpart, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, according to other officials. And he has been in close touch with the director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, Suh Hoon, who U.S. officials said brokered Kim’s invitation to Trump.
Today, Trump also said he would give his blessing to North and South Korea to “discuss the end of the war” when the leaders of those countries meet this month, opening the door to a peace treaty that would replace the armistice that halted the Korean War in 1953.
His statements were fresh evidence of a diplomatic thaw underway on the Korean Peninsula, and made a once-unthinkable encounter between him and Kim far more likely. But his comments could raise other thorny issues.
A peace treaty with North Korea would greatly increase pressure to ease economic sanctions on the North and to withdraw U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula. It would also complicate the already tangled diplomacy in East Asia.
Today, a South Korean newspaper, Munhwa Ilbo, reported that the two countries were negotiating an announcement “to ease military tensions and end a military confrontation,” as part of the summit meeting planned between Kim and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea.
Analysts said South Korea was aiming for a comprehensive deal, in which the North agreed to give up its weapons in return for a security guarantee. Trump’s comments suggested he backed that effort.