By Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed to arrange a second summit “as soon as possible,” and discussed potential U.S. inspections of North Korean nuclear sites, South Korea’s presidential office said on Sunday.
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in held talks with Pompeo in Seoul after the top U.S. diplomat met with Kim for more than three hours during a short trip to Pyongyang that was aimed at breaking a gridlock in their nuclear talks.
Pompeo told Moon that he and Kim discussed denuclearisation steps to be taken by the North and the issue of U.S. government inspection of those actions, which Washington has been calling for, as well as the measures the United States would conduct in return, according to Moon’s press secretary Yoon Young-chan.
Pompeo and Kim also agreed to form a working group “at an early date” to discuss the denuclearisation process and the second summit, which Kim proposed to U.S. President Donald Trump in a letter last month, Yoon said.
“Secretary Pompeo said he and Chairman Kim concurred that they will hold the second U.S.-North Korea summit as soon as possible,” Yoon said in a statement.
“The two sides also agreed to continue discussions to decide on the detailed timing and location of the second summit.”
While Seoul sounded upbeat, Pompeo struck a more cautious tone.
He said his latest, fourth trip to the North was “another step forward” to denuclearisation and he had a “good, productive conversation” with Kim, but more needed to be done.
“As President Trump said, there are many steps along the way and we took one of them today,” Pompeo told Moon. “It was another step forward. So this is, I think, a good outcome for all of us.”
Moon expressed hopes that Pompeo’s trip and the proposed second meeting between Kim and Trump would make “irreversible, decisive progress in terms of denuclearisation as well as the peace process.”
Moon had his own third summit with Kim last month in Pyongyang, which was partly intended to help salvage the stumbling negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington, after Trump called off Pompeo’s planned visit to the North in late August citing lack of progress.
Kim pledged to work towards denuclearisation at the Singapore summit, but Pyongyang’s actions have since fallen short of Washington’s demands for irreversible steps to give up its arsenal, including declaring all nuclear and missile facilities.
At last month’s meeting with Moon, Kim promised to allow outside inspections of key missile facilities, and expressed a willingness, for the first time, to “permanently” scrap Yongbyon, North Korea’s main nuclear complex.
Shortly after arriving in South Korea, Pompeo posted a photo of himself walking along with Kim on Twitter, saying: “Had a good trip to #Pyongyang to meet with Chairman Kim. We continue to make progress on agreements made at Singapore Summit. Thanks for hosting me and my team @StateDept.”
Kim and Pompeo met for about two hours, and then had lunch together at the Paekhwawon, or 100 Flowers Garden, a prestigious state guesthouse, for another hour and a half, according to a pool report.
“It’s a very nice day that promises a good future for both countries,” Kim said, speaking through an interpreter, as he sat down at the lunch table with Pompeo.
“Thank you for hosting, President Trump sends his regards. And we had a very successful morning, so thank you and I am looking forward to our time here at lunch as well,” Pompeo said.
A U.S. official who was part of Pompeo’s delegation said the trip was “better than the last time” but added: “It’s going to be a long haul.”
Pompeo’s last trip did not go well. He left Pyongyang in July hailing progress, only for North Korea to denounce him for making “gangster-like demands.” Pompeo did not meet Kim on that trip.
Pompeo visited Tokyo on Friday and is also due to travel to Beijing before returning home on Monday.
Pompeo had said en route to Asia he aimed “to make sure we understand what each side is truly trying to achieve.” He said he also hoped to agree a “general date and location” for a second summit.
But he declined to comment when asked if he would agree to North Korean demands for a declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War or to South Korea’s suggestion that to break the current stalemate, he should avoid pressing again for an inventory of North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
Recently, Pompeo has angered North Korea by insisting that international sanctions must remain in place until it gives up its nuclear weapons.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told the United Nations last month that continued sanctions were deepening the North’s mistrust of the United States and there was no way Pyongyang would give up its nuclear weapons unilaterally under such circumstances.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)