New York - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a senior North Korean official ended two days of talks Thursday with no immediate announcement that a cancelled summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump is back on.
The State Department said Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol, the right-hand man to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, abruptly concluded their meetings before noon, roughly 90 minutes earlier than expected.
A State Department official said the schedule change was not the result of an impasse in efforts to set the agenda for a reinstated leader summit in Singapore next month, but provided no details of what had been accomplished.
"The secretary's meeting ended early as a result of the parties making progress and the meeting going well," the official said.
Trump cancelled the planned summit last week, blaming "hostility" from North Korea, and US officials said Pyongyang had been uncooperative in finalizing the details. A flurry of diplomacy has followed to put the meeting back on track, including the extraordinary scene of the American secretary of state welcoming an accused North Korean spy chief to two days of meetings over tea in a luxury Manhattan apartment.
Pompeo gave no indication of trouble with a short tweet after the talks broke up.
"Substantive talks with the team from #NorthKorea. We discussed our priorities for the potential summit between our leaders," he wrote.
Kim is the most senior North Korean to visit the United States in almost two decades. He sat down with Pompeo at 9:05 a.m. in the government-leased residence of the deputy head of the US mission to the United Nations two short blocks away.
Pompeo was accompanied by two North Korea experts and an interpreter. Kim and his unidentified aides, two men and a woman, sat facing a curved window with a sweeping view of the East River and Lower Manhattan.
Pompeo and Kim were smiling but silent as they prepared to hold talks over tea at the same table where they shared a private dinner Wednesday night. Both men ignored questions shouted by journalists allowed in to witness them shaking hands and sitting down to start their delicate discussions that could seal, or sink, the chances of a June 12 summit.
A senior State Department official said the purpose of the meeting in New York was to seek a broad agreement on what a successful summit might look like just two weeks from now. The summit was scheduled for June 12.
As he departed for a trip to Texas on Thursday, Trump told reporters that the first day of meetings with the North Korean delegation in New York have gone "very well" and that he expects North Korean envoys to travel to Washington on Friday to deliver "a letter from Kim Jong Un."
Asked if a deal was taking shape, Trump said he was not sure but that the negotiations "are in good hands."
"Hopefully we'll have a meeting on the 12th," Trump said
"It doesn't mean it all gets done at one meeting," Trump said, adding that a second or third meeting might be necessary.
The letter from the North Korean leader would be the second that the two have exchanged in as many weeks, after Trump's publicly released letter scuttling the summit. Kim's letter to Trump would be one way to formally invite a reinstatement of the Singapore meeting, but Trump did not describe its purpose.
Shortly after his plane arrived in New York, Pompeo tweeted that he was looking forward to meeting with Kim Yong Chol and added, "We are committed to the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula." US officials have repeated the four elements so frequently that they refer to it casually by the initials CVID.
The State Department official said they were seeking a corresponding commitment and "action" from the North Koreans.
"I think we are looking for something historic," said the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meetings. "I think we're looking for something that has never been done before. And if for whatever reason the North Koreans say they're not ready to do something like that, fine, we tried. We will ramp up the pressure on them. And we'll be ready for the day that hopefully they are prepared."
The administration is arguing that if the North Koreans want security, it cannot come from nuclear weapons. Instead, their pitch is that Pyongyang will gain more security by abandoning its nuclear program, allowing it to escape from the yoke of international sanctions and isolation and concentrate on economic prosperity.
To drive the point home, the State Department released a photo of Pompeo pointing out of the condo's window to the splendour of the New York skyline, as if to say to the two North Koreans by his side that the same kind of wealth could be theirs, too.
"We are talking about a brighter future for North Korea if it makes a smart choice," the State Department official said.
Pompeo's meeting with Kim in New York occurred at the same time as talks were underway in two other locales. A US delegation was meeting with North Korean officials in the demilitarized zone between the North and South to discuss the summit's content. Separate meetings were being held in Singapore to discuss logistics such as the shape of the table and protocol issues.
At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave an upbeat assessment of preparations for the summit and said the United States is "shooting for" a reinstatement of the meeting as scheduled on June 12.
"The conversation is going to be focused on denuclearization of the peninsula. That's what these ongoing conversations taking place now will be centered on," including Pompeo's meetings in New York, Sanders said.
"As long as that is part of the discussion, we're going to continue to shoot for the June 12th and expect to do that."
Sanders said White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin also met with a North Korean team in Singapore on Wednesday and would continue meetings Thursday.
Separately, a US delegation led by US envoy Sung Kim met with North Korean officials Wednesday at the demilitarized zone, Sanders said.
"So far, the readout from these meetings has been positive, and we'll continue to move forward in them," she said.
But the primary focus is on Pompeo's meeting with Kim Yong Chol. He is the vice chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea Central Committee responsible for South Korean affairs. He is also on the State Affairs Commission, the North Korean government's supreme policymaking organization. His portfolio includes North Korea's relationship with China and, lately, the United States.
The Washington Post