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Secretary Of State Pompeo Meets With North Korean Official Kim Yong Chol


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the future could be bright for North Korea if it gives up its nuclear weapons program.


MIKE POMPEO: The proposed summit offers a historic opening for President Trump and Chairman Kim to boldly lead the United States and the DPRK into a new era of peace, prosperity and security.

KELLY: Pompeo was in New York to help pave the way for the summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un. That is expected to take place in two short weeks, so diplomats are busy, as is NPR's Michele Kelemen. She is in New York keeping tabs on these talks. Hey, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi there, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So the talks today - Pompeo met with a top aide to Kim Jong Un. This is former North Korean spy chief Kim Yong Chol. So what is the readout from their meeting today?

KELEMEN: Well, this is actually the third time that these two men have met. Pompeo went twice to Pyongyang to meet him before in addition to meeting the North Korean leader. And what Pompeo says he's trying to do is convince him that the nuclear program doesn't make North Korea safer but quite the opposite. He knows that this is a tough sell. He said the talks have been tough, but he claims he's making progress. Let's take a listen.


POMPEO: I believe they are contemplating a path forward where they can make a strategic shift, one that their country has not been prepared to make before.

KELEMEN: And remember; North Korea has been working on its nuclear weapons program for decades now. It views it as kind of an insurance policy. And the fact that Pompeo says they're only contemplating a shift in position shows that this is really far from a done deal.

KELLY: OK. Another detail to ask you about, which is this letter. President Trump says he is eager to have a letter hand-delivered by this envoy from Kim Jong Un. Did we know? Was this a surprise that Kim Yong Chol was going to be traveling to Washington?

KELEMEN: Yeah. I mean, last night, an official was saying that Pompeo would likely bring this letter back to Washington. We don't know what's in it.

KELLY: That was going to be my next question, yeah.

KELEMEN: But the president, you know, he's someone who likes drama. So here he invited him to bring this guy who you mentioned was a former spy chief - he's also someone on a U.S. sanctions list - to the White House. And all this really shows, Mary Louise, how much Trump seems to want this summit. It has some experts worried. I spoke today with a former assistant secretary of state for East Asia, Daniel Russel, who's now with the Asia Society here in New York. And he says Kim Jong Un would like this summit because it would be a bonanza for him.

DANIEL RUSSEL: June 12 is payday for Chairman Kim. He's getting something that his grandfather and father couldn't achieve, which is parity with a world superpower. And it's a big step towards the legitimization, or at least the normalization, of North Korea as a nuclear power, as a nuclear state.

KELEMEN: So Russel says there's a real risk here that North Korea will be a big strategic winner in this summit and perhaps Trump will only come away with some more promises from the Kim regime.

KELLY: Well, so are we getting any more clarity, Michele, on what the U.S. strategy going into this summit, which does appear to be happening - what the U.S. strategy going in will be?

KELEMEN: Well, there's a lot of legwork going on right now. That much we've seen not only here in New York but also in Singapore, where the summit is due to be held, and in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. And that's really where the talks are going on about what the agenda's going to be. But, you know, there are still some big open questions - for instance, the basic definition of denuclearization and what the two sides really think it means for them.

KELLY: And which we're going to talk about in a minute. Thanks very much, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

KELLY: That's NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen reporting today from New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.