April 20, 2018 12:48
CIA director Mike Pompeo met secretly with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in early April even as a group of South Korean musicians were performing in Pyongyang. The start of the South Korean concert was postponed twice that day, perhaps because Kim Jong-un was even then meeting with Pompeo.
National security adviser Chung Eui-yong and National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon flew to Washington D.C. to relay Kim's proposal of a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. But U.S. officials felt they should directly verify the offer.
During the Obama administration, there was almost no contact between the U.S. and North Korea, though the channels of communication were not completely closed. In November 2014, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper visited Pyongyang to secure the release of an American held prisoner in the North. That suggests other channels of communication also remained open.
Still, Pompeo's visit is the most direct contact in a long time.
Once the U.S. accepted the North's proposal, Trump's North Korea policy has been progressing rapidly beyond the wildest imaginations of North Korea experts in Washington. Nobody knows what is going on in Trump's mind from one day to the next, but his comments and tweets suggests he continues to weigh the military option and is wary of being duped by the North.
The focus must be on Trump's level of confidence. He believes his approach to dealing with North Korea has succeeded and has staffed his national security and diplomacy teams with hawks like Pompeo, his nominee for secretary of state, and National Security adviser John Bolton. And despite the endless scandals and chaos rocking his presidency, Trump's approval ratings are inching up. That could mean the time is ripe for the summit to succeed.
But he also sent a dire warning with the airstrikes on Syria and has said the summit can be scrapped at any time unless his demands are met. The summit may be about a month away, but negotiations have started already.
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