America’s top spy went to North Korea on a secret mission
President Donald Trump has confirmed that Mike Pompeo, the CIA director who is awaiting confirmation as secretary of state, met with Kim Jong Un in North Korea early April 2018.
Trump said the two men interacted "very smoothly" and formed a "good relationship."
The talks are the highest-level meetings between US and North Korean officials since Madeleine Albright, then secretary of state, met Kim Jong Il in 2000.
"Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un in North Korea last week," Trump tweeted April 18, 2018. "Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed. Details of Summit are being worked out now. Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!"
The meeting was remarkable given that only one year ago North Korean propaganda accused the CIA of plotting to kill Kim.
Pompeo's trip, which reports out April 17, 2018, said happened over the Easter weekend, an apparent conflict with Trump's announcement, had been kept quiet as the US and North Korea deliberate on how best to coordinate a planned summer meeting between Trump and Kim.
The news of Pompeo's secret trip comes after South Korea confirmed that its officials were in talks to end the 68-year war on the Korean Peninsula with a peace deal, something to which Trump has given his blessing.
Any peace deal, however, would require Chinese and UN approval as well, since both are signatories to the 1953 armistice that paused, rather than ended, the war between North Korea and South Korea.
Other reports indicate that Trump has a plan to disarm North Korea of nuclear weapons by 2020. Experts, however remain deeply skeptical of Kim's intentions.
Kim turns over a new leaf?
Though North Korea has touted its missile program as being able to hit the US with nuclear payloads, a capability experts believe the country has or is close to obtaining, Kim has recently opened himself up diplomatically like never before, starting with North Korea's participation in 2018's Winter Olympics in South Korea.
In recent weeks, Kim left North Korea for the first time since he took power in 2011 to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. He has also opened up his country to South Korean pop bands, which he is thought to love. Kim actually attended a K-pop concert where he was reportedly in good humor and made jokes.
North Korea strictly controls the media in its country, and citizens caught enjoying South Korean media have been put to death or taken to labor camps.
Do Jong-hwan of South Korea's Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism told foreign media that K-pop songs being performed in North Korea "could have considerable influence" on the country's culture, according to NK News.
Experts have told Business Insider that Kim opening his country to the outside media could easily lead to his death, as his government holds power without input from its people and has kept them in meager conditions while South Korea has thrived.
Or is Kim waging a diplomatic offensive?
North Korea has moved toward talks with the US several times before, only to back out — though never under its current leader. Also, no other North Korean leader has met with a sitting US president, as Kim and Trump plan to summer 2018, though that has largely been because US presidents have rejected such meetings or imposed conditions that have not been met.
Thae Yong-ho, the highest-ranked North Korean defector, reportedly warned a meeting of the Mulmangcho Foundation organization that Kim was unlikely to deliver in the talks.
According to the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, he said: "Kim will act during his summits with Seoul and Washington as if he were determined to dismantle nuclear weapons in stages — first declaring dismantlement followed by incapacitating nuclear weapons and denuclearization."
In Thae's view, Kim will extract concessions from the US but never truly rid his country of nuclear weapons, given that Kim wrote possession of such weapons into the country's constitution in 2011.
Despite the moves toward peace and reconciliation on both sides of the Korean Peninsula, the US and its allies have resolved to maintain what the Trump administration calls a "maximum pressure" strategy against Pyongyang, which calls for harsh sanctions and a buildup of military forces in the region.