(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with officials in North Korea on Wednesday to prepare for President Donald Trump’s summit with leader Kim Jong Un and seek the release of three American detainees.
Trump disclosed the trip Tuesday while announcing the U.S. would pull out of the multinational accord intended to curb Iran’s nuclear program. The visit is Pompeo’s second trip to North Korea in recent weeks, and comes shortly after Kim arrived back in Pyongyang after his second meeting in as many months with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The shuttle diplomacy comes as the U.S. and North Korea start negotiations over Kim’s nuclear program, which Trump has vowed to stop by any means necessary. North Korea has said it’s willing to give up its weapons if the U.S. offers a security guarantee, but it’s unclear what steps each side is willing to take to make that happen.
Pompeo and about a dozen staffers traveling with him ate lunch with Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Worker’s Party Central Committee. Kim Yong Chol said that North Korea’s shift wasn’t due to U.S. sanctions, but a “policy to concentrate all efforts into economic progress in our country.”
“I hope the United States also will be happy with our success,” Kim Yong Chol said. “I have high expectations the U.S. will play a very big role in establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
Pompeo called his host “a great partner” in working toward a successful summit, while noting challenges along the way.
“For decades, we have been adversaries,” Pompeo said. “Now we are hopeful that we can work together to resolve this conflict, take away threats to the world and make your country have all the opportunities your people so richly deserve.”
Trump said Friday that date and place for the meeting had been set and would be announced soon. Earlier, he had mentioned Singapore and the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas as possible locations.
In a televised address on Tuesday, Trump said the agreement with Iran negotiated under President Barack Obama was a “horrible, one-sided deal that should have never ever been made.” By contrast, he has previously said any deal he makes with North Korea would require complete elimination of its nuclear arsenal.
Pompeo told reporters en route to North Korea that his previous visit with Kim Jong Un on Easter weekend covered “basic outlines” and ground rules for a Trump-Kim meeting. Since then, he said, discussions have been aimed at putting “outlines around the substance of the agenda for the summit. Today, we are hoping to nail some down” and establish “a framework for a successful summit between the two presidents.”
One symbolic gesture by Kim Jong Un would be the release of three American detainees. Trump hinted that may be high on Pompeo’s to-do list. “We will all soon be finding out,” he said. “It would be a great thing if they are.”
Pompeo said that he would raise the issue of the three prisoners during his visit, which wasn’t announced in advance. “We’ve been asking for the release of these detainees for 17 months,” he said. “We’ll talk about it again. It’d be a great gesture if they’d agree to do so.”
A South Korean presidential aide told reporters Wednesday in Tokyo that he expected both the summit date and time, as well as the status of the American prisoners to be settled during Pompeo’s visit.
The three American prisoners are:
- Kim Dong Chul who was sentenced to 10 years hard labor in 2016 on charges including espionage. He told CNN in January of that year that he was a U.S. citizen who spied on behalf of “South Korean conservative elements” before his arrest in North Korea in October. South Korea’s intelligence agency has denied any links to the man.
- Kim Hak Song who was detained in May 2017 under what North Korean state media described as “hostile acts” against the country.
- Kim Sang Dok, also known as Tony Kim, who was intercepted in April 2017 at Pyongyang International Airport after being invited to teach accounting at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.
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