In their first face-to-face meeting since President Trump abruptly canceled a visit scheduled for August, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reportedly spent "several hours" together on Sunday engaging in "productive" talks that represented "another step forward" in US-North Korea relations. and progress toward achieving the agreements from the Singapore Summit The talks also yielded a verbal commitment to schedule the long-anticipated second summit meeting, according to South Koren officials, which the two sides have been working toward since the close of the historic Singapore meeting. According to the Washington Post, Pompeo and Kim met for "several hours" before eating lunch together.
During their totally natural and not-at-all-staged lunch, Pompeo and Kim shared a meal that lasted more than 90 minutes while answering questions from journalists while seated at a large round table...
...both men insisted that it had been "so nice" to have had the opportunity to chat and that their talks had yielded "significant progress."
"It’s good to see you again," Pompeo told Kim as the two men shook hands for the cameras before lunch. The Secretary of State then put his hand on Kim’s shoulder and the pair smiled.
"Well, I am really pleased for this opportunity. After having a nice meeting we can enjoy a meal together," Kim said as they walked down a hallway for lunch.
As they sat for lunch, Kim said, "It’s a very nice day that promises a good future for both countries."
Pompeo said he had had a "great visit" and a "very successful morning", adding that Trump sent his regards. Both men spoke through translators.
Several NK officials even told US journalists that they had no foreknowledge of Kim's decision to dine with Pompeo, suggesting that it was an "off the cuff" decision.
US & NK officials alike were surprised that KJU decided to dine with Pompeo. When I asked one NK official if they knew KJU was going to have lunch with Pompeo today he said definitely not, with wide eyes. https://t.co/CUio2Wetya— Kylie Atwood (@kylieatwood) October 7, 2018
Though a date has not been set, the New York Times reported that the US and North Korea had agreed to hold summit "as early as possible", citing the office of President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, which had been briefed on the meeting.
The Times, citing an anonymous official, reported that the trip was "better than the last time", referring to Pompeo's disastrous July meeting with Kim. Though the two sides remain far apart on several key issues:
An American official who accompanied Mr. Pompeo said on Sunday that the trip was "better than the last time," referring to the secretary’s trip there in July, according to a pool report. But the official, who was not identified, added, "It’s going to a long haul."
Despite the photo-ops and effusive praise shared between Pompeo and the North Koreans, the fact remains that there has been little to no progress made toward breaking the crucial diplomatic logjam preventing negotiations between the US and North Korea from moving forward. As the New York Times reminds us, the US is sticking to its demand that the North complete the process of denuclearization before economic sanctions can be lifted. Meanwhile, the North has insisted again and again that it isn't willing to surrender its nuclear weapons until it is completely convinced that the safety of the regime can be ensured, which is an extremely amorphous benchmark.
In a tweet published late Sunday, President Trump said he looks forward to "seeing Chairman Kim again in the near future."
.@SecPompeo had a good meeting with Chairman Kim today in Pyongyang. Progress made on Singapore Summit Agreements! I look forward to seeing Chairman Kim again, in the near future. pic.twitter.com/bUa2pkq80s— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2018
South Korean officials and some experts quoted by the Times suggested that the US is going down a "dead end" and that, instead, it should start by holding NK to its promise to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear complex and worry about creating a nuclear inventory, a necessary precursor to verification, to a later date.
If the United States insisted that North Korea provide a full nuclear inventory and submit to time-consuming verification first, the negotiations will derail again as they did in the past, some analysts warned.
“Going down that road is a dead end,” Siegfried S. Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, who has visited North Korea several times, said during a lecture in Seoul on Sept. 27.
Instead, he said the two sides must start with risk-reduction steps, like dismantling the Yongbyon complex, and leaving the difficult and time-consuming verification to a later phase of denuclearization, when the two sides have gained mutual confidence in each other.
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha of South Korea also raised the idea of leaving inspection and verification to a later stage in remarks he made during an interview with the national broadcaster KBS on Sept. 21.
Still, there are no guarantees that the North will follow through with this promise, just as many suspect that the North's decision to close its nuclear testing facility, a decision that was widely heralded as a breakthrough by the US media, was in reality a gesture of convenience, since the facility had already been destroyed. As relations between the US and China continue to deteriorate, it's difficult to imagine the North defying its primary benefactor to gamble on warmer relations with the US. More likely, this is just the latest in a series of stalling tactics, as the North hopes to secure whatever concessions it can before the end of Trump's term.
And, of course, there's still the possibility that, once Pompeo has left the North, the regime could change their story and once again denounce the US for making "gangster-like" demands, like they did after Pompeo's previous visit in July.