Two countries reportedly corresponding about historic meeting in secret
North Korea confirmed to the US that it is prepared to discuss denuclearising the Korean Peninsula, a White House official has said.
The announcement comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong-unoffered to meet with President Donald Trump, in what would be the first-ever meeting between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.
The invitation was delivered through South Korean diplomats to Mr Trump, who accepted it readily. But it was followed by weeks of silence from the North, who did not publicly recognise the president’s acceptance. The US administration relied mostly on South Korea’s assurance of Mr Kim’s intentions, according to Reuters.
In recent days, however, North Korean and US officials have reportedly held secret talks on how such a meeting could be carried out. One topic under discussion, according to a US official, is the removal of nuclear weapons from North and South Korea.
“The US has confirmed that Kim Jong-un is willing to discuss the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula,” an administration official said, according to the Washington Post.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo and a team at the agency have recently begun communicating with the North through secret backchannels, in order to make preparations for the summit, according to CNN.
Administration officials told the outlet that representatives from the US and North Korea had even met in a third country in an attempt to pin down a location.
Controlling the North’s nuclear weapons programme has been a priority for several US administrations. Mr Trump has been especially vocal about the need to denuclearise, as Pyongyang began rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal last year. After one North Korean missile launch, Mr Trump famously threatened to rain “fire and fury” on the country if it did not desist.
At first, the war of words between Mr Trump and Mr Kim seemed only to be escalating, with the North Korean leader calling Mr Trump “mentally deranged”. But tensions cooled as the North and South agreed to march under one banner in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, and diplomats from the two countries met for their first talks in years.
South Korean diplomats brought the North’s offer of a meeting to Mr Trump early last month. The president tweeted the news of his acceptance, writing: “Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!”
South Korea initially said the meeting would be held by late May, but no further details were announced.