Sung Kim, the US ambassador to the Philippines, held talks with North Korean officials on Sunday at the border village of Panmunjeom between the two Koreas as US Secretary Mike Pompeo plans to visit Pyongyang later this week, US media reported Monday.
Kim, former US ambassador to South Korea and a nuclear envoy, is reported to have met with North Korean officials for 1 1/2 hours for talks believed to be aimed at setting the agenda for Pompeo’s possible visit to North Korea on Friday.
The meeting between Kim and North Korean officials appears to have been the first face-to-face contact between US officials and their North Korean counterparts since US President Donald Trump held a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on June 12 in Singapore.
Kim played key roles in paving the way for the Singapore summit. In late May, Kim and North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Choi Sun-hee held working-level talks to work on the substance of denuclearization at Panmunjeom ahead of the summit.
Accompanying Kim to the meeting, Andrew Kim, head of the CIA’s Korea Mission Center, delivered a letter from Pompeo to Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, according to South Korean news reports.
“As I know it, Kim Yong-chol returned (to Pyongyang) after receiving a message from Pompeo at Panmunjeom. Talks were held among working-level officials,” a source was quoted as saying.
Sung Kim was photographed leaving the Four Seasons Hotel in central Seoul early on Sunday morning, crossing into the demilitarized zone and heading back to Seoul about two hours later. He was sighted leaving the hotel Monday morning.
Confirming the meeting, a State Department spokesperson said they discussed the next steps toward implementing the joint declaration signed by Trump and Kim at the summit, the Washington Post reported.
In a joint statement, North Korea agreed to work toward “complete denuclearization,” and the US promised to provide a security guarantee to the country. But the statement failed to include the definition of denuclearization or a specific timeline to dismantling North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.
The meeting came amid growing doubts over Pyongyang’s commitment to denuclearization.
Recent news reports suggested that Pyongyang does not intend to fully surrender its nuclear arsenal and is preparing to deceive the US about the number of nuclear warheads and the existence of undisclosed facilities, citing US intelligence officials.
When Pompeo visits Pyongyang, concrete steps for North Korea’s denuclearization -- a timeline for a declaration of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and facilities, and a verification process -- and the US security guarantee to the regime are expected to top the agenda.
Meanwhile, Trump‘s National Security Adviser John Bolton said Sunday that the US has a plan that would lead to the dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs within a year.
“We have developed a program. I’m sure that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be discussing this with the North Koreans in the near future about really how to dismantle all of their WMD and ballistic missile programs in a year,” Bolton said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
He added that the one-year program the US is proposing would cover all of the North’s chemical and biological weapons, nuclear programs and ballistic missiles.
Trump reiterated in an interview aired Sunday that he thinks Kim is serious about denuclearization, but did not rule out a possibility that it will not “work out.”
“I made a deal with him. I shook hands with him. I really believe he means it,” Trump said on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.” “Now, is it possible? Have I been in deals, have you been in things where, people didn’t work out? It’s possible.”