SEOUL/WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met North Korean officials in Pyongyang on Friday, hoping to “fill in” details on how to dismantle the North’s nuclear programme and recover the remains of US troops missing from the Korean War.
Pompeo met Kim Yong Chol, who played a key role with Pompeo in arranging last month’s summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, according to a pool report by reporters traveling with him.
The talks lasted nearly three hours and it was uncertain whether Pompeo would meet Kim Jong Un. He will spend the night in Pyongyang, his first overnight stay in North Korea.
“We just wrapped our first meeting of the day,” Pompeo told reporters. “I’m proud of my team’s work.”
At the Singapore summit, Kim Jong Un made a broad commitment to “work toward denuclearisation”, but fell short of details on how or when he would dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program, which it has pursued in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.
“The president told me he believes that Chairman Kim sees a different, brighter future for the people of North Korea. We both hope that’s true,” Pompeo said on Twitter after a phone call with Trump as he headed for North Korea.
“Next stop: Pyongyang. I look forward to continuing my meetings with North Korean leaders. There’s much hard work ahead but peace is worth the effort.”
Pompeo said he was seeking to “fill in” some details on North Korea’s commitments and maintain the momentum towards implementing the agreement from the summit, according to the pool report.
Pompeo would try to agree on at least an initial list of nuclear sites and an inventory that could be checked against the available intelligence, US intelligence officials told Reuters.
Also high on the agenda is the issue of the remains of US soldiers missing from the 1950-53 Korean War. Trump said after the Singapore summit that Kim had agreed to send the remains back to the United States.
Both issues are considered essential tests of whether Kim is serious about negotiations. North Korean officials have yet to demonstrate that in working-level talks, the intelligence officials said.
“If they’re serious, then we can get down to the business of defining the terms of final denuclearization,” said one official.
But the US ability to verify the accuracy of any North Korean list is limited due to the lack of a “high confidence” accounting of the North’s nuclear arsenal, such as the number of warheads and uranium enrichment facilities, especially if they are not operational, they said.
While, in the past, the Pentagon has said North Korean officials have indicated they had the remains of as many as 200 US troops, a US military official familiar with the procedures for handling remains said it was not clear what North Korea might hand over.