Mike Pompeo, the CIA Director, reportedly met with high ranking North Korean officials in early April. Pompeo, who is in contention to become the next Secretary of the State, visited North Korea to discuss the upcoming summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.
The relationship between the US and North Korea has always been fractious. During the war between North and South Korea in 1950, US forces successfully intervened on behalf of South Korea. To this day, there are 28,500 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in South Korea as part of United States Forces Korea (USFK).
The North Korean nuclear program has been a source of concern for the US and the international community for decades. North Korea has remained an isolated nation and its nuclear program has especially been a concern for the international community. In 2017, North Korea has launched 23 missiles in the course of 16 tests. In November 2017, North Korea after seemingly two months of silence, tested its most potent missile yet. The Hwasong-15 missile reached an unprecedented height of almost 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles). The Hwasong-15 is a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile. This represents a serious escalation in the stability of the Korean peninsula.
Trump has taken an aggressive stance while countering North Korea. In 2017, he said that North Korea “will be met with fire and the fury like the world has never seen.” North Korea responded by announcing that plans were underway for it to strike Guam, a US territory. Both Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump were locked in an extended war of words in 2017, with both threatening war.
In March 2018, a South Korean delegation headed to North Korea to partake in historic talks to ease the tensions that have built up in the Korean peninsula. Experts believe that this will pave the way for US talks. Chung Eui-yong, the head of the presidential national security office is heading the South Korean delegation, a team of 10 members.
Chung Eui-yong had a successful interaction with North Korean authorities including Kim Jong Un and went to the US to brief Washington. He also presented President Trump with a personal invitation from Kim Jong Un requesting a meeting. After months of escalated tensions, the international community was taken by surprise when it was announced that President Trump would be meeting Kim Jong Un sometime in May 2018.
The Washington Post was the first news outlet to report that the present CIA Director Mike Pompeo had visited North Korea around two weeks ago. The report has since been confirmed by other media outlets including CNN.
The meeting was not publicized at the time. In addition, officials from the White House or State Department did not travel with him. He was accompanied by only intelligence officials. US President Donald Trump later confirmed the meeting by taking to Twitter noting, “Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un in North Korea last week. Meeting went very smoothly, and a good relationship was formed. Details of Summit are being worked out now. Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!”
While talking to reporters, Trump also noted that US officials were looking at five different locations for a late-May or early-June meeting with Kim Jong Un. However, he noted that one of the locations will not be the United States. He added, “We'll see what happens … because ultimately it's the end result that counts, not the fact that we're thinking about having a meeting, or having a meeting.”
US President Donald Trump had earlier announced that he would be nominating Mike Pompeo to become the next US Secretary of State. He will be replacing Rex Tillerson. Media reports have suggested that the meeting went by smoothly and that Pompeo was “personable”.
Meanwhile, ties between North Korea and South Korea have continued to strengthen in the recent months. South Korean leader Moon Jae In is scheduled to meet with Kim Jong Un in the demilitarized zone on April 27th. The demilitarized zone is the partition that divides the two Koreas. This is a landmark meeting as this marks the first time leaders of both these countries have met in over a decade.
Even though all indications point that ties between North Korea and the US are improving, it is still too early to state that this would result in a favorable outcome. Some critics have stated that Mike Pompeo’s hawkish outlook could actually hinder these high level meetings.
Our assessment is that North Korea has the most to gain from a meeting with a sitting US President as it would lend the isolated state actual legitimacy. As stated previously, a successful meeting could also pave the way to lift UN imposed sanctions. However, experts remain deeply skeptical that North Korea would truly be willing to give up its nuclear programme. If the meeting takes place and North Korea continues developing and testing nuclear weapons, that would result in foreign policy failure on the part of the US.
There are some concerns. There is a possibility that the increased tensions in Syria could negatively impact North Korea leader Kim Jong Un’s mindset. Recently, Kim Jong Un made an unofficial visit to China, perhaps to ensure the country has the blessing of its most powerful ally. Both China and North Korea will push for the complete withdrawal of American army from the region.