American President Donald Trump disclosed on Tuesday that the United States is having direct talks at “extremely high levels” with Pyongyang to try to set up a summit between himself and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
It was subsequently reported by The Washington Post, quoting unnamed sources, that the contact had been between CIA director Mike Pompeo and the North Korean leader. Mr Pompeo, who is still to be confirmed by the Senate in his new role of secretary of state, made a top-secret visit to North Korea during Easter weekend as an envoy for the president.
Mr Trump made the acknowledgement of the contact during a picture-taking session with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as they opened two days of talks at the president’s Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Florida, which is to include a round of golf.
Mr Abe obtained an agreement from Trump to bring up the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea during any summit.
The president said US officials are looking at five different locations for a late-May or early-June meeting with Kim. Asked if any of those were in the United States, Mr Trump said: "No."
He did not identify who on the US side was talking to the North Koreans.
“We have had direct talks at very high levels, extremely high levels, with North Korea. And I really believe this allows good will, that good things are happening. We’ll see what happens... because ultimately it’s the end result that counts, not the fact that we’re thinking about having a meeting, or having a meeting,” the president said.
The two leaders are having two days of talks largely focused on the prospective summit with Kim, as Japan seeks a US commitment that any denuclearisation deal the president seals with Kim will include not just long-range missiles, but also those that could be aimed at Japan.
Mr Trump said it was possible that diplomatic efforts to arrange a summit will fall short.
“It’s possible things won’t go well and we won’t have the meetings and we’ll just continue to go on this very strong path we have taken,” he said.
The president also backed efforts between South Korea and the North aimed to end a state of war that has existed between the two countries since 1953.
“They do have my blessing to discuss the end of the war. People don’t realise the Korean War has not ended. It’s going on right now. And they are discussing an end to the war. Subject to a deal they have my blessing and they do have my blessing to discuss that,” he said.
Mr Abe said Japan would like North Korea to agree to a complete, verifiable denuclearisation and that Mr Trump had shown “courage” in attempting to set up a summit with Kim.
“Japan and ourselves are locked and we are unified on the subject of North Korea,” said Mr Trump, seated on a couch beside Mr Abe in the ornate entrance hall at the beachfront estate.
Both leaders could use a successful summit to give themselves a political boost at home. Mr Trump has been hounded by controversies linked to an investigation into Russian meddling into the 2016 election, and his Japanese counterpart is struggling with declining popularity because of scandals over suspected cronyism.
The US president has forged close ties with Mr Abe during his 15 months in power and the two have bonded over rounds of golf during his last visit to Florida more than a year ago and Mr Trump’s visit to Tokyo in November.