Mike Pompeo, CIA director and nominee for secretary of state, met with Kim Jong Un in North Korea over Easter weekend — a major sign that Washington and Pyongyang are setting the stage for historic talks between President Donald Trump and Kim later this year.
The Washington Post’s Shane Harris, Carol D. Leonnig, Greg Jaffe, and David Nakamura broke the news about the top-secret meeting late Tuesday night. Trump had hinted at Pompeo’s milestone visit earlier on Tuesday, saying at Mar-a-Lago — where he’s hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — that the US was engaging with North Korea at “directly” at “extremely high levels.” Trump added: “I really believe there’s a lot of goodwill. A lot of good things are happening.”
Trump’s statement was big news, though it was tough to pin down what exactly the president was referring to in his remarks. As Vox’s Alex Ward wrote, “direct talks at an ‘extremely high level,’ as Trump says are now happening, are rare. That’s why it’s hard to know if the US and North Korea are actually speaking at a higher level than normal, or through an already established channel.”
But it turns out it was different. A visit by Pompeo — one of Trump’s most trusted advisers — is a sign that there’s legitimate progress toward a historic meeting between Kim and Trump. According to the Post, Pompeo is the highest level official to meet with a North Korean leader since Madeline Albright met with Kim Jong Il, the current leader’s father, as secretary state in 2000.
Trump is expected to sit down with Kim in late May or June, and a lot of details still have to get worked out before that happens. Having the current CIA director and nominee to be next secretary of state meet with directly with the North Korean leader himself is a pretty good way to start working those details out.