- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo embarked on his second surprise trip to North Korea in as many months, holding discussions ahead of a planned summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to discuss the North’s nuclear program.

President Trump revealed the trip while announcing his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, suggesting that the two sides have already nailed down a time and place for the historic, high-risk meeting.

State Department officials said Mr. Pompeo flew out of Washington late Monday evening with only a handful of senior aides and a security detail. Two journalists were given roughly four hours notice of the secretary of state’s departure.

In a pool report on his way to the region, Mr. Pompeo said the goal of the trip was to work with the North Koreans toward putting “in place a framework for a successful summit between” Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim, and to avoid past negotiating mistakes that allowed Pyongyang to build up a formidable nuclear arsenal and the ballistic missiles to deliver them.

“We are not going to head down the path we headed down before,” Mr. Pompeo said, in an apparent reference to past attempts at diplomacy with North Korea that saw Pyongyang commit to abandoning its nuclear weapons and programs but never following through.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Pompeo have said they want a firm commitment this time around from North Korea for “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.”

“We will not relieve sanctions until such time as we have achieved our objectives,” Mr. Pompeo said Tuesday. “We’re not going to do this in small increments, where the world is coerced into relieving economic pressures.”

U.S. officials said Mr. Pompeo plans to also press North Korea for the release of three detained American citizens that the administration has hinted may soon be set free. While there were no guarantees, Mr. Pompeo said their release would be received as a significant goodwill move by Pyongyang ahead of any Trump-Kim summit.

“I think it would be a great gesture if they would agree to do so,” he said, adding that it would be difficult to hold a summit if the prisoners remained captive. The three Korean-Americans — Kim Dong-chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim — are all accused by the North of anti-state activities.

Mr. Pompeo, who first traveled to North Korea before he was confirmed as secretary of state in early April, is only the second sitting secretary of state to visit the reclusive nation with which the United States has technically remained in conflict since the early-1950s Korean War was frozen by an armistice but no peace treaty.

Madeleine Albright traveled there in 2000 who went as part of an unsuccessful bid to arrange a meeting between President Clinton and Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il.

Mr. Pompeo’s previous trip to Pyongyang occurred over Easter weekend, and was only revealed by Mr. Trump after the confirmation vote.

It was not clear whether Mr. Kim would meet Mr. Pompeo in Pyongyang on Wednesday.

Mr. Trump has said that a time and place for his planned summit with the North Korean leader have been decided, but the president has not said where and when it will occur. U.S. officials said Mr. Pompeo aims to lock both down on Wednesday so that a formal announcement can be made.

His visit to Pyongyang comes just a day after Mr. Kim returned from China, the North Korean leader’s second trip to the neighboring country in six weeks to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi also spoke by phone Tuesday.

A Trump-Kim meeting seemed a remote possibility just a few months ago when the two leaders were trading threats and insults over North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests. But momentum for diplomacy built this year as North and South Korea have moved to ease tensions, with Mr. Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in holding their own summit last month.

David R. Sands contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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