Pompeo Returns To North Korea

May 9, 2018
Originally published on May 9, 2018 10:35 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in North Korea. He's only the second sitting U.S. secretary of state to visit that country. And he is there to work out an agenda for a possible summit meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. There are hints from the Trump administration that Pompeo might also be bringing home three Americans who were detained in North Korea. NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in Seoul, South Korea. He's covering this story.

Hey there, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what exactly is Pompeo doing?

KUHN: Well, we know that he's already met with his North Korean counterpart, the foreign minister, and other high-ranking officials. We don't know whether he's met Kim Jong Un yet. And he has discussed an actual agenda for this summit. And there is also lots of similar talk about spring and hope. Both sides talked about ending the decades-long conflict between the U.S. and North Korea and creating greater economic opportunities for North Korean people. And Pompeo said he will work to get the release of three American detainees who are in North Korea and get them out ahead of the summit.

INSKEEP: Now, I guess, we should be clear here. Pompeo spoke with some reporters on the way to North Korea, and he didn't exactly say, I'm there to set the agenda for the summit. I believe he said something closer to, I'm there to see if they are really willing to do the things that would be necessary to have a summit. Is this summit a certainty at all?

KUHN: Not a certainty at all. And U.S. officials have sounded plenty of notes of caution going into it. The State Department says that the summit is still just a possibility because they really don't know for sure if North Korea is totally certain about total nuclear disarmament. Also, the language of U.S. and North Korea on this are just completely different. When North Korea and South Korea talk about a disarmament deal, they're talking about North Korea taking individual steps towards nuclear disarmament and the international community rewarding them for each one. The U.S. sees that as what happened before in failed deals. They want to do much better.

INSKEEP: Oh, meaning that the United States wants one total departure, one total act that gets everything out of North Korea, not a step-by-step process where the North Koreans can get some rewards and maybe stop later.

KUHN: Exactly. And that's going to be difficult because, you know, the North Korean nuclear program is far along, and it's going to take a long time to totally dismantle.

INSKEEP: Now, even though there are all these doubts, there's an awful lot of activity. Wasn't Kim Jong Un just in China?

KUHN: Yeah. It's been a frenzy in the past 24 hours. We've had Pompeo in North Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited China for the second time in just over 40 days. He talked with President Xi Jinping. Xi Jinping spoke to President Trump on the phone. And then you had the prime ministers of China, South Korea and Japan all meeting in Tokyo. So a lot of that is good. It's, you know, coordination and these officials exchanging notes. And there's also some maneuvering and jockeying for an advantage, and countries that are not in on these talks directly don't want to get left out.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, who are these three detained Americans?

KUHN: They're all three U.S. citizens of Korean descent. All three of them happened to be surnamed Kim. They're all either Christian missionaries or pastors or people who worked for a school that has evangelical ties. All were arrested for espionage or so-called hostile acts against the North Korean nuclear state. And Pompeo said he didn't know if they'd be released now. But certainly, it would be very difficult for the summit to go ahead if they were still in detention in North Korea.

INSKEEP: Anthony, thanks, as always, pleasure talking with you.

KUHN: You bet, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn. He's in Seoul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.