North, U.S. negotiating summit

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North, U.S. negotiating summit

Following reports of secret talks between the United States and North Korea to make preparations for a first bilateral summit, the Blue House said Sunday that it is “observing closely” the situation without confirming further details.

Mike Pompeo, director of the Central Intelligence Agency and state secretary nominee, and his team have been working through intelligence back-channels with Pyongyang to prepare for a summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, CNN reported Saturday, citing several administration officials familiar with the discussions.

It further reported that such secret talks are a “sign that planning for the highly anticipated meeting is progressing.”

The U.S. and North Korean intelligence officials were said to have spoken several times in a third country, focusing on deciding a location for the summit.

These talks are laying the groundwork for a meeting between Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart, the head of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, which oversees Pyongyang’s intelligence operations, ahead of the leaders’ summit, CNN added.

North Korean reportedly has been pushing for the summit to take place in Pyongyang, though it is unclear if Trump would agree to this.

Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, has been raised as a possible third-country location.

Chung Eui-yong, South Korea’s national security adviser and President Moon Jae-in’s envoy, conveyed to Trump North Korean leader Kim’s invitation to a summit during a visit to Washington on March 8.

He relayed that Kim said he is committed to denuclearization, and Trump accepted the invitation on the spot.

But there had been little update on how plans for the U.S.-North summit were progressing. North Korea has not made reference to a U.S. summit through its state-run media.

Following some trepidations that the summit would never take place, especially following the firings of both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster last month, the back-channel talks being underway indicate some progress.

Pompeo, who has been named to replace Tillerson, is preparing for a Senate confirmation hearing next Thursday. It is unclear if he will be confirmed before the U.S.-North Korea summit.

John Bolton, the hard-line former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations replacing McMaster as national security adviser, is also expected to play a role in planning for the talks once he begins his post at the White House Monday. He does not need Senate confirmation.

CNN reported that the officials said after a location is agreed upon, the exact date will be set and the agenda discussed in greater detail, adding that the summit is expected to be held in late May or June.

It added that the U.S. State Department continues to communicate with North Korean officials through the so-called “New York channel” via their contacts in the United Nations, since the two countries do not have diplomatic relations.

These diplomatic efforts with the North and with parties involved like South Korea, China, Japan and Russia, are led by acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton and Mark Lambert, deputy special representative for North Korean policy, who has experience negotiating with the North as a special envoy to the defunct six-party talks to denuclearize Pyongyang.

Matthew Pottinger, the U.S. National Security Council’s senior director for Asia, is reported to be leading coordination among government agencies preparing for the summit.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, in a lecture Thursday at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, said that denuclearization will be the focus of Trump’s summit with Kim.

“We’re not lifting any sanctions, we’re not reducing any pressure, and we’ve told the rest of the international community, ‘Don’t praise something that hasn’t happened yet,’” said Haley.

“So, when the president ends up speaking with Kim, the conversation has to be about denuclearizing. Not just some of it. All of it. We don’t want an irresponsible actor to have any sort of nuclear weapons.” She said on North Korea’s denuclearization, “He either does it or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t, we’ll deal with that. If he does, then maybe we can work on something.”

Haley added that Washington is entering the summit “very cautiously,” very much knowing that Kim has looked at the Iran nuclear deal and “he’s seen what he can get, and he’s seen how he can push through loopholes, and we’re not going to let that happen again.”

“We cannot officially confirm if there was contact between the United States and North Korea,” a South Korean government source told the JoongAng Ilbo on Sunday.

“But U.S. President Donald Trump has announced that he will hold a North-U.S. summit in May and there is not a lot of time left, so is it expected there will be working-level contact soon.”

Such working-level talks are customary to arrange the details and agenda of a summit.

Blue House officials have indicated that such direct contact between U.S. and North Korean officials would be “positive” and “a good signal.”

On March 28, Trump tweeted following Kim’s trip to Beijing for a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping: “Now there is a good chance that Kim Jong Un will do what is right for his people and for humanity. Look forward to our meeting!”

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