By MATTHEW LEE and JOSH LEDERMAN
NEW YORK (AP) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korea’s former military intelligence chief opened high-stakes talks in New York on Thursday to try to salvage an on-again, off-again summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump told reporters the talks were going well and that North Korean officials may come to Washington on Friday with a letter from Kim.
Pompeo met with Kim Yong Chol, one of the North Korean leader’s closest aides, at the apartment residence of the U.S. deputy ambassador to the United Nations in New York. Kim is the highest-ranking North Korean official to visit the U.S. in 18 years. He and Pompeo had discussions over dinner of steak, corn and cheese on Wednesday, Pompeo said in a tweet.
The U.S. secretary of state, who spoke with Trump on Wednesday night and with National Security Adviser John Bolton early Thursday, was accompanied by Andrew Kim, the head of a CIA unit assigned to work on North Korea, and Mark Lambert, the head of the State Department’s Korea desk. It was not immediately clear who accompanied Kim Yong Chol on the North Korean side.
“We are doing very well with North Korea,” Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews before departing on a trip to Texas. “Our secretary of state is having very good meetings. I believe they will be coming down to Washington on Friday. A letter being delivered to me from Kim Jong Un. It is very important to them.”
“I think it will be very positive. We will see what happens. It is all a process. Hopefully we will have a meeting on the (June) 12th,” Trump said, adding there may be multiple meetings but “maybe we’ll have none.”
Pompeo’s talks with Kim Yong Chol — the most critical of three tracks of negotiations currently taking place between the two governments in the U.S., in the heavily fortified Korean Demilitarized Zone, and in Singapore — are aimed at determining whether a meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un, originally scheduled for June 12 but later canceled by Trump, can be restored.
“The potential summit between @POTUS and Chairman Kim presents #DPRK with a great opportunity to achieve security and economic prosperity,” Pompeo tweeted shortly before Thursday’s meeting began. “The people of #NorthKorea can have a brighter future and the world can be more peaceful.”
But Kim Jong Un, in a meeting with Russia’s foreign minister on Thursday, complained about “U.S. hegemonism,” a comment that may complicate the discussions in New York. “As we move to adjust to the political situation in the face of U.S. hegemonism, I am willing to exchange detailed and in-depth opinions with your leadership and hope to do so moving forward,” Kim told Sergey Lavrov.
North Korea’s flurry of diplomatic activity following a torrid run in nuclear weapons and missile tests in 2017 suggests that Kim is eager for sanctions relief to build his economy and the international legitimacy the summit with Trump would provide. But there are lingering doubts on whether he will ever fully relinquish his nuclear arsenal, which he may see as his only guarantee of survival in a region surrounded by enemies.
The U.S. side is pressing its demand for “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.” A senior State Department official told reporters Wednesday that for a summit to talk place, North Korea will have to make clear “what they’re willing to do” in terms of commitments and action. The U.S. is willing to provide the North Koreans security guarantees and help them achieve economic prosperity if they denuclearize, said the official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
Pompeo, Trump’s former CIA chief, has traveled to Pyongyang twice in recent weeks for meetings with Kim Jong Un. Trump views a summit as a legacy-defining opportunity to make the nuclear deal, but he has left the world guessing since canceling the meeting last week in an open letter to Kim that complained of the North’s “tremendous anger and open hostility.” North Korea’s conciliatory response to that letter appears to have put the summit back on track.
Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the North Korean ruling party’s central committee, was allowed into the United States despite being on a U.S. sanctions list, but the State Department has said he would likely need additional approval to travel outside the New York area.
In 2000 Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok visited Washington and met President Bill Clinton at the White House amid warming ties between the 1950s wartime foes. Relations turned sour again after George W. Bush took office in early 2001 with a tough policy on the North.
The White House emphasized that it has remained in close contact with South Korean and Japanese officials as preparations for the talks continue. Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump will host Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan on June 7. Trump hosted South Korean President Moon Jae-in last week.
Moon, who has lobbied hard for nuclear negotiations between Trump and Kim Jong Un, held a surprise meeting with the North Korean leader on Saturday in an effort to keep the summit alive.
Lederman reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Christopher Bodeen in Beijing and Jonathan Lemire in Washington contributed to this report.