President Trump is currently at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Today, Trump revealed his administration had engaged in very high-level talks with North Korea. There was some initial confusion about just how high-level those talks might be. A reporter asked Trump if he had spoken directly with Kim. Trump replied “yes” but the pool reporter covering the president wrote, “it is not completely clear if he was responding directly to that question.”
Here is my pool report on what Trump said when asked by reporters if he has spoken directly with Kim Jong Un pic.twitter.com/rXMPSzDVVZ
— David Nakamura (@DavidNakamura) April 17, 2018
The White House clarified moments later that Trump had not spoken to Kim, but was referring to high-level contacts with Kim in advance of a planned meeting with the president.
BREAKING: White House: Trump has not spoken directly with North Korea's Kim Jong Un, but talks have been held at 'highest levels.'
— The Associated Press (@AP) April 17, 2018
So what are those high-level contacts? CBS News reported last month that the CIA had established a back-channel for communication with North Korea:
Three U.S. officials, two current and one former, confirmed American intelligence has already established a back-channel contact with North Korea and that the CIA has been leading the U.S. effort to directly engage the rogue regime. Mike Pompeo is said by these officials to favor the type of quiet diplomacy conducted through these back channels. This bypasses the existing diplomatic channel maintained by the State Department at the United Nations.
Today, the Washington Post reports that Mike Pompeo made a secret visit to North Korea over Easter weekend:
CIA Director Mike Pompeo made a top-secret visit to North Korea over Easter weekend as an envoy for President Trump to meet with that country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, according to two people with direct knowledge of the trip.
The extraordinary meeting between one of Trump’s most trusted emissaries and the authoritarian head of a rogue state was part of an effort to lay the groundwork for direct talks between Trump and Kim about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, according to the two people, who requested anonymity because of the highly classified nature of the talks…
Speaking at his Mar-a-Lago resort on Tuesday, Trump appeared to allude to the extraordinary face-to-face meeting between Kim and Pompeo when he said the U.S. has had direct talks with North Korea “at very high levels.” The president didn’t elaborate.
Late yesterday there were also reports that South Korea and North Korea were planning to announce a formal end to the Korean war after 68 years. From USAToday:
North and South Korea are reportedly set to announce an official end to the 1950-1953 Korean War that technically finished with a truce — and not a peace treaty, according to South Korea’s daily newspaper Munhwa Ilbo.
The newspaper, citing an unnamed South Korean official, reports that lawmakers from North and South Korea are negotiating a joint statement that could focus on a path to the end of the war.
It’s too early to say whether any of this will pan out but it appears there is some actual movement taking place in North Korea. After years of belligerence and threats against the U.S., Kim Jong Un suddenly seems interested in taking a different tack.