CIA Director Mike Pompeo met secretly with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in recent weeks to set up a meeting between Mr. Kim and President Trump, two administration officials said Tuesday.
Mr. Pompeo, now the president’s nominee for secretary of state, traveled to North Korea over Easter weekend to talk to the reclusive communist leader, The Associated Press confirmed.
Disclosure of the top-secret meeting came after Mr. Trump said the U.S. and North Korea already have had direct talks at “extremely high levels” ahead of his planned summit with Mr. Kim this summer, and that five locations are under consideration.
The U.S. has “started talking to North Korea directly,” Mr. Trump told reporters Tuesday after meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. “We have had direct talks at very high levels, extremely high levels with North Korea.”
The president also said he has given South Korea his “blessing” to negotiate a historic peace deal with North Korea to end formally the war that started in 1950. South Korean President Moon Jae-in is slated to meet with Mr. Kim for talks on April 27.
“The war has never ended. If we can do something even before the meeting, the big planned meeting, that would be fine,” Mr. Trump said. “But we’re dealing very closely with South Korea. They do have my blessing to discuss the end to the war.”
A formal peace treaty would be a breakthrough moment in one of the most tense, dangerous regions in the world. The isolationist, communist government in North Korea has increasingly threatened the U.S., South Korea and Japan with the testing of medium-and long-range missiles to augment its nuclear weapons program.
A plan being floated among Japan, the U.S. and South Korea is aimed at the complete denuclearization of North Korea by the summer of 2020, diplomatic sources told The Japan Times on Tuesday, in a rejection of Pyongyang’s “phased, synchronized” approach in exchange for benefits.
The three countries are seeking an early end to Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles after past attempts allowed North Korea incremental incentives to halt its nuclear arms program and led Pyongyang to buy time and further develop such weapons, sources close to Japan-U.S. relations told The Times. The time frame for North Korea’s denuclearization may be addressed during Mr. Abe’s meetings with Mr. Trump, the sources said.
North and South Korea have technically been at war since June 1950, when North Korean troops invaded the South. An armistice was signed in July 1953, but the two countries have been in a standoff ever since, with the Demilitarized Zone providing a buffer to separate them.
A peace treaty could also smooth the way for Mr. Trump’s planned summit on denuclearization with Mr. Kim, who have traded public insults over the past year as Pyongyang conducted more missile tests and Washington led an international push for tougher sanctions on North Korea.
Mr. Trump said Tuesday he’s looking forward to meeting Mr. Kim.
“They do respect us. We are respectful of them,” the president said. “It’s a time for talking, it’s a time for solving problems. I really believe there’s a lot of good will. There’s a great chance to solve a world problem.”
Reporters had asked Mr. Trump whether he had already spoken to Mr. Kim directly. At first he answered “yes,” but it wasn’t clear whether he was responding to a question about Mr. Kim or another query.
When pressed again whether he has spoken to Mr. Kim, the president said he would leave it “a little bit short of that,” reiterating that the two nations have communicated “at the highest levels.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later clarified that the president meant the talks “were not with him directly.”
Referring to possible locations for the Kim summit, Mr. Trump said during his press conference with Mr. Abe that “we have not picked a site yet, but we’ve picked five sites where it’s potentially going to be. We’ll let you know very soon.”
He said none of the possible sites is in the U.S.