U.S. Secretary of State nominee and CIA Director Mike Pompeo made a secret visit to North Korea over the Easter weekend and met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.
Pompeo’s conversations fueled President Donald Trump’s belief that productive negotiations were possible with North Korea, but far from guaranteed, according to the official briefed on the trip, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Trump said earlier on Tuesday the United States was engaged in direct talks at “extremely high levels” with North Korea to try to set up a summit between him and its leader, Kim Jong Un.
Trump sowed some confusion by suggesting he had been speaking to Kim directly, but later clarified by saying: “Let’s leave it a little bit short of the highest level.”
Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders added: “The president said the administration has had talks at the highest levels and added that they were not with him directly.”
Asked about Pompeo, she said: “The administration does not comment on the CIA director’s travel.”
Pompeo’s trip made him the most senior U.S. official to visit North Korea since then-intelligence chief James Clapper in 2014.
The president’s comments came as he and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe opened two days of talks at the president’s Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Florida.
Reflecting the closeness of their ties, the meetings included a walk around the carefully manicured grounds of the beachfront club and dinner on the patio with their wives. A round of golf was planned for Wednesday.
Trump said he believed there was a lot of goodwill in the diplomatic push with North Korea, but added it was possible the summit – first proposed in March and which the president said could take place in late May or early June – may not happen.
Efforts to arrange an unprecedented meeting between the U.S. and North Korean leaders have helped ease tensions over Pyongyang’s development of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States. Kim has agreed to discuss denuclearization, according to U.S. and South Korean officials.
“We have had direct talks at very high levels – extremely high levels – with North Korea. I really believe there’s a lot of goodwill; a lot of good things are happening.” Trump told reporters.
“As I always say, we’ll see what happens, because ultimately it’s the end result that matters, not the fact that we’re thinking about having a meeting or having a meeting.”
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