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Pompeo, Kim confer over New York meal

Two former spy chiefs enjoy toasts and menu of beef, corn, cheese
June 01,2018
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North Korea's Kim Yong-chol, center, leaves a hotel in New York, Wednesday. The senior North Korean official arrived in New York on Wednesday in the highest-level official visit to the United States in 18 years, as President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un sought to salvage prospects for a high-stakes nuclear summit. [AP/YONHAP]
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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Kim Yong-chol, a high-ranking North Korean official, had a dinner meeting in New York Wednesday evening, feasting on steak and corn, to pave the way to a historic summit this month between their two leaders.

Kim, the influential vice chairman of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee and director of the United Front Department, which is responsible for inter-Korean relations, flew into New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport earlier that day from Beijing.

Pompeo and Kim had a 90-minute dinner meeting at the residence of the U.S. deputy representative to the United Nations in Manhattan and were expected to continue to iron out their positions on Thursday on an agenda for a planned June 12 leaders’ summit in Singapore.

Their discussions included denuclearization, security guarantees, as well as “the idea of a brighter future” for North Korea, according to a senior U.S. State Department official after the dinner meeting.

On May 24, U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly canceled his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un following hostile messaging from Pyongyang, but there has been a rapid succession of diplomatic and logistical meetings over the past week to put the summit back on track.

Ahead of the dinner, Pompeo tweeted that he was “Looking forward to meeting” with Kim Yong-chol in New York to discuss a “potential summit with Chairman Kim” and President Trump. He continued: “We are committed to the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

After the meeting, Pompeo tweeted: “Good working dinner with Kim Yong Chol in New York tonight. Steak, corn, and cheese on the menu.” He posted two photos, one in which he shakes hands with Kim and another in which the group raises glasses in a toast over dinner.

Kim was spotted exiting The Corinthian, a high-rise apartment building located near the United Nations headquarters in east Manhattan, at around 8.30 p.m., after the dinner meeting, and Pompeo left a short while after. The two were scheduled to hold another round of talks Thursday.

This marks Pompeo and Kim’s third meeting. Pompeo, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, made surprise visits to Pyongyang at the beginning of April and in early May.

Kim is the highest-ranking North Korean official to visit the country since 2000, when Jo Myong-rok, a vice marshal, visited Washington and met with U.S. President Bill Clinton to arrange a summit with leader Kim Jong-il. The summit never came about.

Washington is demanding complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization, or CVID, from North Korea, and Pyongyang in turn is expecting some concrete guarantees for the security of the Kim Jong-un regime.

This notion is being referred to as the complete, verifiable and irreversible guarantee of the regime’s security, or CVIG. Pompeo testified to a U.S. Senate committee last week that he and the North Korean leader have discussed what “assurances were going to be provided” in exchange for the North’s denuclearization, and that these guarantees should “extend beyond the end of the negotiations as well.”

Pompeo was scheduled to report to Trump about his discussions with Kim and also was said to be in regular contact with U.S. officials in Singapore and at the demilitarized zone.

The secretary was scheduled to hold a press conference at the Lotte New York Palace Hotel in midtown Manhattan on Thursday afternoon, at 2:15 p.m., according to the State Department.

“We are looking for something historic,” a senior U.S. State Department official told reporters in New York about a Kim-Trump summit after the dinner meeting, “something that has never done before.”

The official said that broadly, the “goal is denuclearization.

“North Koreans have defined what they want as security, and they have determined some years ago that security could be found with nuclear weapons,” said the official. “What we have to convince them is that, on the contrary, their nuclear program has made them less secure, that there’s a better path forward, that we can work with them.”

The official continued, “We’re willing to work with them to provide them the security guarantees they feel they need, and in fact, we’re willing to go beyond that to help them have greater economic prosperity. But they have to denuclearize.

“We’ve been clear that what we’re looking for is CVID,” said the official. “And in order for a summit to be successful, the North Koreans have to do things that they have not done before.”

Washington would need “action” and “commitment” from the North, and in turn, the official said, offering a “brighter future for North Korea if it makes a smart choice.”

At one point in his dinner with Kim, Pompeo was pictured gesturing to the New York City skyline, perhaps offering an indication of a possible brighter future for the North.

Addressing the hostile exchanges the previous week, the official added, “That’s why we’re having talks face-to-face and not corresponding either through the newspapers or letter,” adding, “the ideal thing is what’s happening right here, what’s happening in the DMZ and what’s happening in Singapore.”

The official described North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan’s May 25 letter courteously expressing regret in response to Trump’s cancellation of the summit as “about the most conciliatory letter I’ve ever seen.” Trump, after this letter, expressed willingness to put the June 12 summit back on track.

Asked whether Kim Yong-chol brought a letter from the North Korean leader, the State Department official said, “President Trump sent a letter to Chairman Kim. It’s customary when you send a letter like that, that a letter comes in return.

“Delivering the letter to the president,” the official added, “if there is such a letter, is something that Kim Yong-chol came to the United States prepared to do, and we’ll have to see.”

The official said it would be “perfectly natural,” if a letter for Trump would be handed to Secretary of State Pompeo, Kim Yong-chol’s “counterpart in the preparation for the summit,” but did not completely rule out the possibility that Kim may physically deliver it to Trump himself.

Kim, a four-star general, formerly ran the People’s Army’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, the regime’s main intelligence agency, and is alleged to be the mastermind of the 2010 torpedoing of the South’s Cheonan warship, which killed 46 sailors. He has been the target of U.S. Treasury sanctions since 2010 and was believed to have traveled to New York on a special waiver by the State Department.

There is a chance that former spy chief Kim may head to Washington later Thursday or Friday to personally deliver the letter, if the talks with Pompeo went well. Should Gen. Kim have an opportunity to meet with Trump, there is a likelihood that the president would formally announce that the North-U.S. summit will be held on June 12 in Singapore as planned. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a briefing earlier Wednesday ahead of Pompeo’s dinner that the two sides are “continuing to prepare for the meeting between the president and the North Korean leader.”

When asked what Pompeo might need to hear from North Korea for the summit to go forward, she replied in a roundabout matter, “As the president says, if it happens, we’ll certainly be ready.”

Pompeo met with Trump before he headed to New York for a dinner with Kim “as well as a day full of meetings” on Thursday, according to Sanders.

Sanders added that there are other meetings with North Korean officials taking place in Singapore and Korea. “The advance team led by Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin met with the North Korean team in Singapore earlier today, and again expect to do so tomorrow.”

The U.S. team led by Hagin, the White House deputy chief of staff for operations, and North Korea’s delegation led by Kim Chang-son, director of the North’s State Affairs Commission Secretariat, have been in Singapore since Monday.

Hagin, who served as a deputy chief of staff to former U.S. President George W. Bush, is a veteran at arranging logistics, security and protocol matters for summits, as is Kim Chang-son, considered equivalent to a chief of staff to the North Korean leader.

Similarly, Sung Kim, a former U.S. top nuclear envoy and current ambassador to the Philippines, kicked off talks with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui at the Tongilgak building on the northern side of Panmunjom, the truce village at the inter-Korean demilitarized zone, on Sunday. The two sides engaged in a second round of talks on Wednesday. What was being discussed has been tightly kept secret, though they were expected to be reaching agreement on denuclearization issues.

“We also have reports back from the DMZ,” said Sanders. “The U.S. delegation, led by Ambassador Sung Kim, met with North Korean officials earlier today as well. And their talks will continue.”

CNN reported Thursday that the U.S. delegation is staying at least another day in Seoul. It was unclear if there will be more meetings scheduled with the North in Panmunjom.

Noh Kyu-duk, spokesman of the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a briefing Thursday on the U.S.-North Korea meetings, “South Korea and the United States have been in consultation nearly daily through many phone calls between Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Secretary of State Pompeo, as well as through diverse diplomatic channels at various levels.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]