A Spy Chief’s Covert Mission to Kim’s Kingdom

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CIA Director Mike Pompeo's top-secret meeting with Kim Jong Un is historic in itself: He's the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Pyongyang since then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2000.

The clandestine Easter weekend mission by one of the administration’s biggest North Korea hawks shows Donald Trump is serious about plans for an unprecedented summit with Kim in late May or early June. The president said the U.S. has narrowed possible venues to five sites and gave his blessing for the two Koreas to discuss a formal end to their 68-year conflict.

Such signals, although encouraging after months of war threats, are still a long way from achieving the “complete verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” that multiple U.S. presidents have failed to extract from generations of Kims. The administration must figure out how to convince Kim to disarm while not ceding too much ground and also avoiding the pitfalls that scuttled previous attempts at peace.

Yesterday, Trump acknowledged the summit with Kim might yet fall apart and said “we’ll just continue to go on this very strong path we have taken.” But Pompeo's trip shows that at least he's going in with a game plan.

Global Headlines

Putin’s gambit | Publicly, Russian officials say the latest U.S. sanctions and military strikes on Syria have plunged relations to Cold War levels. Privately, President Vladimir Putin wants to dial down tensions and give Trump another chance to deliver on pledges to improve ties. As Ilya Arkhipov and Evgenia Pismennaya report, Russian concerns over the economic costs of confrontation help explain why lawmakers suddenly pulled a draft law to impose sweeping counter-sanctions on U.S. companies.

May’s plan under attack | U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit strategy faces a renewed threat today when her flagship bill returns to Parliament’s upper chamber. Lords of all political stripes are seeking to amend May's proposal to keep Britain in a customs union with the EU after leaving the bloc, a proposition the prime minister has staunchly opposed.

Democrats’ dilemma | Shut out of power in Washington, Democrats are fighting among themselves over their midterm election strategy. They’re caught between catering to a base that is seething with anger toward Trump and appealing to voters in Republican-leaning parts of the country whose support they’ll need to win control of Congress, Sahil Kapur writes.

Exception to the rule | Spain’s Mariano Rajoy survived the 2015 election with unemployment at more than 20 percent and facing a raft of corruption allegations. Now the economy is booming, the graft allegations are largely confined to the past, and voters are abandoning the prime minister. Esteban Duarte explains why the adage of “it's the economy, stupid”doesn’t apply in Madrid.

$1 billion white elephant | Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port has become a symbol of what can go wrong for countries along President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. But now one of China's largest state-owned conglomerates is trying to turn around a project that has sparked concerns about Beijing's growing influence.

What to watch today:

— Trump has once again soured on the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership ahead of planned trade talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

— Executives at Southwest Airlines will face tough questions as federal investigators seek to learn more about the cause of yesterday’s fatal accident aboard a flight from New York to Dallas.

— South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is scheduled to speak with Bloomberg Television’s Guy Johnson in London.

And finally ... Barbara Bush, the matriarch of an American political dynasty and the only woman to see both her husband and son sworn in as U.S. presidents, died late yesterday at the age of 92. Bush was known for her sharp wit, fierce loyalty to her family, white hair that she refused to dye and a bluntness that sometimes got her into trouble. “Mom kept us on our toes and kept us laughing until the end,” her eldest son, former President George W. Bush, said in a statement.

 

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