Trump's intelligence chief had secret meeting with North Korean leader: US official

WASHINGTON/PALM BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State nominee and CIA Director Mike Pompeo made a secret visit to North Korea over the Easter weekend and met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.

Pompeo's conversations fueled President Donald Trump’s belief that productive negotiations were possible with North Korea, but far from guaranteed, according to the official briefed on the trip, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Trump said earlier on Tuesday the United States was engaged in direct talks at "extremely high levels" with North Korea to try to set up a summit between him and its leader, Kim Jong Un.

North Korea's Kim Jong Un

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a performance given with splendor at the People's Theatre on Wednesday to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State Merited Chorus in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on February 23, 2017. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a performance given with splendor at the People's Theatre on Wednesday to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State Merited Chorus in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on February 23, 2017. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Samchon Catfish Farm, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on February 21, 2017. KCNA/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Samchon Catfish Farm, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on February 21, 2017. KCNA/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Samchon Catfish Farm, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on February 21, 2017. KCNA/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Samchon Catfish Farm, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on February 21, 2017. KCNA/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guides the test-fire of Pukguksong-2 on the spot, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 13, 2017. KCNA/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun on the birth anniversary of late leader Kim Jong Il (the Day of the Shining Star), to pay tribute to him, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on February 16, 2017. KCNA/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets Song Tao, the head of the China's Communist Party� International Department who led a Chinese art troupe to North Korea for the April Spring Friendship Art Festival, in this handout photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 15, 2018. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju meet with Song Tao, head of the International Department of Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang April 17, 2018. KCNA/via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks in Beijing as he paid an unofficial visit to China, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 28, 2018. KCNA/via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju are seen in Beijing, as he paid an unofficial visit to China, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 28, 2018. KCNA/via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju are seen near a train as he paid an unofficial visit to China, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang March 28, 2018. KCNA/via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets members of the high-level delegation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea which visited South Korea to attend the opening ceremony of the 23rd Winter Olympics in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) February 13, 2018. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA
FILE PHOTO: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a New Year's Day speech in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on January 1, 2018. KCNA/via REUTERS/File Photo ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits the national science centre in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang January 12, 2018. KCNA/via REUTERS ?ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un makes a closing remark at 5th Conference of Cell Chairpersons of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) on December 23 in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang December 24, 2017. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un gives opening remarks at the 5th Conference of Cell Chairpersons of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on December 22,2017. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un is seen during the inspection of a potato flour factory in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang December 6, 2017. KCNA/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Trump sowed some confusion by suggesting he had been speaking to Kim directly, but later clarified by saying: "Let's leave it a little bit short of the highest level."

Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders added: "The president said the administration has had talks at the highest levels and added that they were not with him directly.”

Asked about Pompeo, she said: “The administration does not comment on the CIA director’s travel.”

Pompeo's trip made him the most senior U.S. official to visit North Korea since then-intelligence chief James Clapper in 2014.

The president's comments came as he and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe opened two days of talks at the president's Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Florida.

Reflecting the closeness of their ties, the meetings included a walk around the carefully manicured grounds of the beachfront club and dinner on the patio with their wives. A round of golf was planned for Wednesday.

Trump said he believed there was a lot of goodwill in the diplomatic push with North Korea, but added it was possible the summit - first proposed in March and which the president said could take place in late May or early June - may not happen.

Efforts to arrange an unprecedented meeting between the U.S. and North Korean leaders have helped ease tensions over Pyongyang's development of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States. Kim has agreed to discuss denuclearization, according to U.S. and South Korean officials.

CIA director Mike Pompeo

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., holds a meeting with CIA Director nominee Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., in his Capitol office on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Mike Pompeo (L) is sworn in as CIA Director by Vice President Mike Pence (R) as wife Susan Pompeo (2nd L) looks on at Eisenhower Executive Office Building January 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. Pompeo was confirmed for the position by the Senate this evening.

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

UNITED STATES - JUNE 28: Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., right, chairman of the Select Committee on Benghazi, conducts a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center, June 28, 2016, to announce the Committee's report on the 2012 attacks in Libya that killed four Americans. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., also appears. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Representative Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director nominee for President-elect Donald Trump, swears in to a Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. Pompeo is seeking to reassure senators that he can shift from an outspoken policymaker to an objective spy chief if confirmed.

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., holds a meeting with CIA Director nominee Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., in his Capitol office on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016.

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) arrives to testify before a Senate Intelligence hearing on his nomination of to be become director of the CIA at Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 12, 2017.

(REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) finishes swearing in Mike Pompeo, flanked by his wife Susan Pompeo, to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the vice president's ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 23, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Mike Pompeo gets a hug from supporter Jennifer O'Connor after arriving at the Sedgwick County Republican headquarters at Market Centre in Wichita, Kansas, on Tuesday, November 6, 2012.

(Fernando Salazar/Wichita Eagle/MCT via Getty Images)

Adam Schiff (D-CA) left, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) center, and moderator Chuck Todd, right, appear on 'Meet the Press' in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015.

(William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for the director of the CIA, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) attends his confirmation hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on January 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. Mr. Pompeo is a former Army officer who graduated first in his class from West Point.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) listens as Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) speaks during his confirmation hearing to be the director of the CIA before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on January 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. Mr. Pompeo is a former Army officer who graduated first in his class from West Point.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., speaks during the news conference before a group of House Republican freshmen walked to the Senate to deliver a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday, March 30, 2011. The letter called on the Senate to pass a long term continuing resolution with spending cuts.

(Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)

US Congressman Mike Pompeo (C), R-Kansas, sits in the dark after a power failure with US Senator Pat Roberts (L), a former Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and former US Senator Bob Dole (R), R-Kansas, as he prepares to testify before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, January 12, 2017, on his nomination to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the Trump administration.

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., center, nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is introduced by former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., right, and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., during Pompeo's Senate Select Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Building, January 12, 2017. The hearing was moved from Hart Building due to a peer outage.

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Incoming Trump administration cabinet secretary nominees including Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson (L-R), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director nominee Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary nominee James Mattis arrive for meetings at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 13, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Mike Pompeo (2nd L), flanked by his wife Susan Pompeo (2nd R) and their son Nick Pompeo (R), signs his affidavit of appointment after being sworn in as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) in Pence's ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 23, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

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"We have had direct talks at very high levels – extremely high levels - with North Korea. I really believe there’s a lot of goodwill; a lot of good things are happening." Trump told reporters.

"As I always say, we’ll see what happens, because ultimately it’s the end result that matters, not the fact that we’re thinking about having a meeting or having a meeting."

 

MEETING SITE?

Contacts between the two side in recent weeks have involved U.S. intelligence and State Department officials, a U.S. official told Reuters this month.

Trump, who has exchanged bellicose threats with Kim in the past year, said U.S. officials were looking at five locations for a meeting with Kim. Asked if any of those were in the United States, Trump replied: "No."

A U.S. official said sites in Southeast Asia and Europe were among those under discussion. Kim has rarely left North Korea.

Speculation has centered on a range of sites including Pyongyang, the demilitarized zone between the Koreas, Stockholm, Geneva and Mongolia.

Talks between Trump and Abe are largely focused on the prospective summit with Kim as Japan seeks a U.S. commitment that any denuclearization deal the president seals with Kim will include not just long-range missiles but those that could be aimed at Japan.

"For the North Korean issue, I’d like to underscore the importance of achieving the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization, as well as the abandonment of missile programs of North Korea," Abe told Trump.

Abe also obtained an agreement from Trump to bring up the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea, a highly emotive issue for the Japanese.

 

'IT'S POSSIBLE THINGS WON'T GO WELL'

Trump stressed that the two sides in this week's talks were unified.

"Japan and ourselves are locked, and we are very unified on the subject of North Korea," he said.

Trump said it was possible that diplomatic efforts to arrange a Kim summit would fall short and if it does not happen, the United States and its allies would maintain pressure on Pyongyang through sanctions.

"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," he said.

Trump also backed efforts between South Korea and the North aimed at ending a state of war that has existed between the two countries since 1953.

"They do have my blessing to discuss the end of the war. People don’t realize the Korean War has not ended. It’s going on right now. And they are discussing an end to the war. Subject to a deal, they have my blessing and they do have my blessing to discuss that," he said.

 

TRADE AGENDA

Trump and Abe could use a successful summit to give themselves a political boost at home. Trump has been hounded by controversies linked to an investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, and Abe is struggling with declining popularity because of scandals over suspected cronyism.

Trump has forged close ties with Abe during his 15 months in power and the two have bonded over rounds of golf during Abe's last visit to Florida more than a year ago and Trump's visit to Tokyo last November.

Japan fears Trump will try to link vital security matters with touchy trade topics. Tokyo is eager to avoid being pushed into talks on a two-way free trade agreement aimed not only at market access but at currency policies, something South Korea recently accepted when it renegotiated a trade deal with the United States.

Another irritant on trade is that Japan has not been given an exemption to tariffs on steel and aluminum exports to the United States, unlike the European Union, Canada and Mexico.

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