Pompeo en route to North Korea to finalise Trump-Kim summit

US president announced mission minutes before Pompeo arrived in Japan to refuel before flying on to Pyongyang

In this image released by the White House, then-CIA director Mike Pompeo shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, North Korea, during a 2018 East weekend trip. President Donald Trump revealed more information about Pompeo's secret trip to North Korea, saying Pompeo wasn't supposed to meet with Kim, but that they ended up talking for more than an hour. Pompeo, who won Senate confirmation April 26, to become secretary of state, was the most senior U.S. official to meet a North Korean leader since 2000. (White House via AP)
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US secretary of state Mike Pompeo was heading to North Korea on Tuesday to finalise details of a planned historic summit between President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un.

Mr Trump announced the mission just minutes before Mr Pompeo arrived in Japan to refuel before flying on to Pyongyang, and as the president declared he was withdrawing from a landmark nuclear deal with another bitter US adversary, Iran.

Officials say Mr Pompeo on Wednesday will also press North Korea for the release of three detained American citizens, whose imminent release the president has been hinting at. His trip comes just days after North Korea expressed displeasure with Washington for comments suggesting that massive US pressure had pushed Mr Kim to the negotiating table.

Mr Pompeo, who first travelled to North Korea as CIA chief in early April, is only the second sitting secretary of state to visit the reclusive nation with which it is still technically at war. The first was Madeleine Albright in 2000 who went as part of an unsuccessful bid to arrange a meeting between then president Bill Clinton and Kim’s father Kim Jong Il.

"At this very moment, secretary Pompeo is on his way to North Korea in preparation for my upcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un," Mr Trump said at the White House.

“Plans are being made, relationships are building, hopefully a deal will happen and with the help of China, South Korea and Japan a future of great prosperity and security can be achieved for everyone,” he said.

Mr Pompeo flew out of Washington under cover of darkness late on Monday aboard an Air Force 757 accompanied by a handful of senior aides, a security detail and two journalists, who were given just four hours’ notice of his departure.

His first trip to Pyongyang over Easter weekend before he was confirmed as secretary of state was a closely held secret. News of it did not emerge just before his Senate confirmation vote less than two weeks ago. Shortly afterward, the White House released photographs of Mr Pompeo and Mr Kim posing for cameras.

Mr Pompeo told reporters aboard his plane that his first visit was to test the North Korean’s seriousness of pledges to South Korea on easing tensions. This trip is “to put in place a framework for a successful summit,” he said.

Although there were no guarantees that the American prisoners would be freed during the visit, US officials said their release would be significant goodwill gesture ahead of the Trump-Kim summit that is expected later this month or in early June.

“I think it would be a great gesture if they would agree to do so,” Mr Pompeo said, adding that it would be difficult to hold a leaders’ 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.

His visit will comes just a day after Kim traveled to China for the second time in six weeks to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping.