U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sunday, the State Department said Tuesday as high-stakes talks over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program enter a crucial phase.
The top American diplomat’s planned visit comes as the two countries seek a breakthrough in the stalled talks and as Pompeo looks to lay the groundwork for a second Trump-Kim summit.
But Tuesday’s rare announcement that Pompeo would actually meet with the young North Korean dictator also came just hours after North Korea threw cold water on the idea that a declaration ending the Korean War could be used as a bargaining chip in denuclearization talks — but suggested lifting sanctions might be.
The planned trip to the North Korean capital will be Pompeo’s fourth and will be book-ended by meetings with regional allies, including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Saturday and South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha later Sunday. Pompeo will then travel to Beijing for a meeting with his Chinese counterpart on Monday.
But Pompeo did not meet Kim on his last visit in July, when the North Korean leader instead was photographed touring a potato farm. Another visit by Pompeo was announced in August but was abruptly canceled by Trump.
“I think it shows forward progress and momentum that the secretary is making his fourth trip back in less than a year,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a televised news briefing.
“Everyone recognizes that we have a ways to go and a lot of work that is left to be done,” she said.
“But obviously these conversations are going in the right direction and we feel confident enough to hop on a plane to head there to continue the conversations.”
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary Tuesday that declaring the end of the 1950-53 Korean War “can never be a bargaining chip” for North Korea’s denuclearization, and said the country “will not particularly hope for it” if the United States does not want the end of war.
The commentary also claimed that Pyongyang has taken significant measures to end “hostile relations” between the two countries but said the U.S. is “trying to subdue” it through sanctions, a not-so-subtle call for Washington to lift the crushing measures if it hopes to kick-start the talks.
On Saturday, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told the United Nations General Assembly that there was “deadlock” in the denuclearization talks as Washington “relies on coercive measure that are lethal to trust-building.”
Nauert played down the recent comments, saying: “Other countries sometimes will say things that are more colorful than the United States will, and that’s just fine, too.”