The United States and North Korea have kicked off their working-level discussions for their first summit amid speculation that the two countries’ spy chiefs are leading diplomatic efforts to resolve the decadesold nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula.
Citing several officials from the Trump administration, CNN reported Saturday that the United States and North Korea have been holding secret, direct talks using intelligence backchannels between the two countries’ top intelligence agencies.
Led by former Central Intelligence Agency chief Mike Pompeo, who awaits confirmation for his appointment as a secretary of state, the US intelligence officials have met with their North Korean counterparts several times in a third country to nail down a venue for the summit, US officials told CNN.
South Korea’s presidential office said Sunday while they cannot confirm whether such talks have been taking place, it is a certainly a “good sign” in paving the way for the high-stakes summit between North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump.
“Even if we were aware of the talks, we cannot comment on it,” said an anonymous Cheong Wad Dae official, according to Yonhap News Agency. “If there were such talks, we think it’s a positive move. It’s a good signal that the talks are going back and forth (between the US and North Korea).”
|Former Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo, who awaits Congressional confirmation for his appointment as a secretary of state. Yonhap|
According to CNN, the talks between the US and North Korea’s intelligence officials are aimed at laying the ground for a meeting between Pompeo and the head of the North’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, whose identity has not been confirmed.
The preparations for the Trump-Kim summit are reported to be made through the channel that runs between the CIA and the Reconnaissance General Bureau. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service Chief Suh Hoon has been in close contact with his US and North Korean counterparts.
Analysts echoed that the efforts show that the US intelligence agencies are taking the lead for summit preparations, but expressed skepticism whether such moves were headed by the North’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, which deals with clandestine operations against South Korea.
“It’s a natural step in the right direction. It’s an extension of the communication channels established by the three countries‘ top intelligence chiefs.” said Hong Min, director of the North Korean studies division at the Korea Institute for National Unification.
“But we cannot say for certain that the US counterpart in the North was Reconnaissance General Bureau. It is more likely that the North’s United Front Department would be in charge… What we will see next is the exchanges of presidential envoys between the US and North Korea.”
Led by former Reconnaissance General Bureau chief Kim Yong-chul, United Front Department has been managing inter-Korean dialogue and North Korea‘s policy toward the South, including propaganda to the pro-North Korean groups in South Korea.
Topping the agenda during the secret talks between the US and North Korea was nailing down the location of the summit, with venues in a third country emerging as a strong candidate amid the skepticism about the meeting taking place either in Pyongyang or Washington.
CNN quoted US officials as saying that the summit will be held at the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar -- a proposal that North Korea has already relayed to the US, according Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun.