CIA Director Mike Pompeo hasn’t yet been confirmed as secretary of state after the ousting of Rex Tillerson. Yet President Trump must feel confident about Pompeo’s chances because he confirmed in a tweet that his nominee secretly met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang over Easter weekend (as first reported by the Washington Post). According to Trump, the “[m]eeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed.” Pompeo apparently also laid some groundwork for denuclearization talks that are expected to go down during the upcoming meeting/summit (due to happen before late May) between Trump and Kim.
This clandestine meeting signals yet another diplomatic stride on behalf of Kim Jong-un, the famously reclusive leader who has been atypically outgoing lately, possibly because severe economic sanctions on North Korea leave him no other choice. He recently embraced South Korean culture by attending a K-pop concert and reportedly even pledged to put down the nukes while visiting China. Kim also wants to secure a peace treaty when he meets with Trump, but critics of Pompeo’s visit say that it wasn’t as productive as it should have been and sets an unpromising precedent for the Trump meeting.
That is to say, Pompeo returned “empty handed” in a sense because he didn’t come back from North Korea with the three American detainees that are being held by Kim Jong-un’s regime. CNN quotes Adam Mount, a nuclear deterrence expert at the Defense Posture Project at the Federation of American Scientists, on why this looks like a bad U.S. strategy:
“It’s strange to see the nominee for Secretary of State come and go from Pyongyang without securing the release of the three Americans imprisoned there. I expect they will be released, but the United States should not pay a price for their freedom.”
Meanwhile, no one is quite sure where Trump and Kim plan to hold their summit/photo op next month, but the venue definitely won’t be located in the U.S. American officials have suggested the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) along with Sweden (an obvious choice for its neutrality factor) or possibly Singapore or Malaysia. More details are sure to come soon.