Pompeo Cites 'Good Trip' to North Korea and Progress on a Deal

SEOUL, South Korea — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had a “good trip” to North Korea, meeting with its leader, Kim Jong-un, on Sunday and making progress in diplomatic efforts to denuclearize the country.

Later, the office of President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, who was briefed by Mr. Pompeo on his North Korea trip, said that the United States and the North had agreed to hold a new summit meeting between their leaders as early as possible.

The two sides are expected to soon hold working-level talks to set the details of the planned meeting, such as the date and venue, said Yoon Young-chan, a spokesman for Mr. Moon.

In Pyongyang, Mr. Pompeo held a two-hour meeting with Mr. Kim, followed by a 90-minute luncheon hosted by the North’s leader.

“It’s a very nice day that promises a good future for both countries,” Mr. Kim said through an interpreter from the dining table.

Mr. Pompeo said: “We had a great, great visit this morning. President Trump sends his regards. And we had a very successful morning, so thank you.”

An American official who accompanied Mr. Pompeo said on Sunday that the trip was “better than the last time,” referring to the secretary’s trip there in July, according to a pool report. But the official, who was not identified, added, “It’s going to a long haul.”

Mr. Pompeo posted a photo of himself with Mr. Kim on his Twitter account.

“Had a good trip to #Pyongyang to meet with Chairman Kim,” he wrote. “We continue to make progress on agreements made at Singapore Summit,” referring to the meeting between Mr. Kim and President Trump in June.

Later Sunday, Mr. Pompeo arrived in South Korea, where he told Mr. Moon and other officials that he had had a “good, productive conversation” in North Korea.

“As President Trump said, there are many steps along the way, and we took one of them today,” Mr. Pompeo said. “It was another step forward. So this is, I think, a good outcome for all of us.”

Mr. Pompeo was on his fourth visit to Pyongyang on Sunday in hopes of a breakthrough in stalled negotiations on the terms of denuclearizing North Korea. His meeting with Mr. Kim provided him with an opportunity to ensure that the two nations are on the same page in their understanding of Mr. Kim’s commitment to work toward the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Mr. Yoon said that during Mr. Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang, the secretary of state and Mr. Kim had discussed the steps that North Korea would take toward denuclearization, as well as “corresponding” measures that Washington would undertake as incentives for the North.

The two sides also discussed sending American officials to monitor the North Korean steps.

Mr. Yoon did not disclose further details. But when Mr. Kim met with Mr. Moon in Pyongyang last month, he offered to dismantle missile-test facilities and invite international experts to watch for transparency.

He also proposed to “permanently dismantle” the Yongbyon nuclear complex, the North’s main center for producing fuel for nuclear bombs, and to take other steps toward denuclearization — but only if Washington took “corresponding” measures.

Harry J. Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Washington-based Center for the National Interest, called Mr. Pompeo’s meeting “a make-or-break event for U.S.-North Korea relations” with an enormous downside “if it were to go badly.”

Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump met for the first time in June in Singapore, and it was there that Mr. Kim committed to “work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” In return, Mr. Trump promised North Korea security guarantees and “new” relations.

But talks over denuclearization have since stalled. And Mr. Trump’s critics have charged that his eagerness to claim progress in resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis, one of the most urgent problems he inherited from the Obama administration, has blinded him to the country’s deceptive nature.

In July, when Mr. Pompeo made his last trip to Pyongyang, Mr. Kim wouldn’t even meet with him, and the North accused Washington of making a “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization.” When Mr. Pompeo planned another trip to Pyongyang in August, Mr. Trump canceled it at the last minute when it was apparent that no major concession was expected from the North in relinquishing its nuclear arsenal.

Mr. Moon of South Korea then stepped in as a mediator, flying last month to Pyongyang for his third summit meeting with Mr. Kim.

Mr. Trump has since sounded effusively optimistic, mentioning “beautiful letters” he said Mr. Kim wrote to him and saying that he was ready to meet with Mr. Kim soon. He even said he and Mr. Kim “fell in love.”

North Korean officials who dined with members of Mr. Pompeo’s entourage in a separate room had said that it would be great if Mr. Trump visited Pyongyang for a second summit meeting with Mr. Kim.

They also asked American officials about the midterm elections in the United States. One of them, Kim Song-hye, called Mr. Trump “generous” and “a leader,” and said the two countries “wouldn’t be here without Trump.”

But there is no sign that North Korea has changed its decades-old negotiating strategy, which often involves making pledges that it fails to carry out.

Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly last month, its foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, said that although his government’s commitment to denuclearization was “solid and firm,” there was “no way” his country would unilaterally disarm unless Washington took steps to demonstrate that it is no longer a threat.

Noting continuing American hostility, Mr. Ri cited Washington’s campaign to escalate sanctions against the North and its refusal to declare an end to the Korean War, which was only halted with a truce.

But Washington stressed that it will keep sanctions as leverage until North Korea denuclearizes. It also insisted that the North first start the denuclearizing process by submitting a full inventory of its nuclear program and agreeing to intrusive inspections to verify that no warhead or fissile materials are hidden.

Past nuclear talks between North Korea and the United States had fallen apart over how to verify that the North had owned up to all its nuclear activities.

If the United States insisted that North Korea provide a full nuclear inventory and submit to time-consuming verification first, the negotiations will derail again as they did in the past, some analysts warned.

“Going down that road is a dead end,” Siegfried S. Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, who has visited North Korea several times, said during a lecture in Seoul on Sept. 27.

Instead, he said the two sides must start with risk-reduction steps, like dismantling the Yongbyon complex, and leaving the difficult and time-consuming verification to a later phase of denuclearization, when the two sides have gained mutual confidence in each other.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha of South Korea also raised the idea of leaving inspection and verification to a later stage in remarks he made during an interview with the national broadcaster KBS on Sept. 21.

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