Update: There was some confusion earlier this evening over whether President Trump had met directly with Kim Jong Un. The White House clarified he hadn’t, but it turns out that at least one member of his administration has.
The Washington Post reports that it was in fact CIA Director Mike Pompeo that 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 clandestine mission, which has not previously been reported, came soon after Pompeo was nominated to be secretary of state.
“I’m optimistic that the United States government can set the conditions for that appropriately so that the president and the North Korean leader can have that conversation will set us down the course of achieving a diplomatic outcome that America so desperately — America and the world so desperately need,” Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week during his confirmation hearing.
This report comes just hours after multiple Democrats publicly came out to oppose Pompeo’s nomination for Secretary of State.
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As we detailed earlier, during a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe following their meeting at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort on Tuesday, President Trump disclosed that US and North Korean officials have been engaged in “high-level” talks – the first indication since the firing of Rex Tillerson that the US and the North have engaged in diplomacy without the involvement of South Korean intermediaries.
The US “has started talking to North Korea directly,” Trump told reporters. “We’ve had direct talks at very high levels, extremely high levels with North Korea” – thought Trump didn’t name any individuals who were involved in the talks.
Later Tuesday evening, Bloomberg reported that a “very senior” administration official had been speaking directly with Kim Jong Un. After suggesting that he was the official who had spoken with Kim, Trump clarified that he hadn’t spoken directly with the North Korean leader, but that officials just shy of the highest level had taken part in the talks.
Trump also said he’s given South Korea “his blessing” to begin negotiating a deal to finally end the Korean War (a peace treaty between the two warring nations was never officially signed – only the Korean Armistice Agreement in 1953).
“They do have my blessing to discuss the end to the war,” Trump said.
Trump also appeared to take credit for the “success” of the Winter Olympics on PyeongChang.
“They’ve been very generous that without us and without me in particular, I guess, they wouldn’t be discussing anything and the Olympics would have been a failure,” Trump said. “As you know North Korea participated in the Olympics and it was really quite an Olympics. It was quite a success. That would not have happened.”
Abe praised Trump, saying his “unwaivering conviction as well as his determination” has made talks with North Korea possible. Abe added that he hoped to raise the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea – “a Japanese priority issue”. Trump said he would.
“We will bring up the abductees. We’ll bring up many different things,” Trump said. “I know that’s been a very big factor for you.”
Trump said five different locations are being considered for the site of the North Korea-US talks – what would be the first meeting between a North Korean leader and a US president since modern North Korea was founded.
As for the timing, Trump said the meeting with Kim would take place in “early June or before that assuming things go well.”
Though Trump cautioned that “it’s possible things won’t go well and we won’t have the meetings and we’ll just continue to go on this very strong path we have taken.”
Watch the full press conference below: