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Pompeo’s remarks on next meeting with NK official fuel speculation

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent remarks, indicating that he hopes to meet with his North Korean counterpart “in the next week and a half or so,” without revealing details, is fueling speculation about the details of this potential meeting.

“We’re working on finding dates and times and places that will work for each of the two leaders,” Pompeo told the Voice of America on Friday. “I’m very hopeful we’ll have senior leader meetings here in the next week and a half or so between myself and my counterpart to continue this discussion so that when the two of them get together there is real opportunity to make another big step forward on denuclearization.”
 

US Secretary Mike Pompeo, left, talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, right, in Pyongyang, North Korea on Oct. 7. (US State Department-Yonhap)
US Secretary Mike Pompeo, left, talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, right, in Pyongyang, North Korea on Oct. 7. (US State Department-Yonhap)

Pompeo added that the date of a second meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had yet to be determined, but replied positively when asked if he expected it to happen “in the very near future.”

The time frame the top US diplomat mentioned in his interview comes as a surprise, as onlookers expected a series of working-level talks between the US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun and Choe Son-hui ahead of Pompeo’s meetings with a ranking North Korean counterpart.

Working-level talks between the US and the North were expected to closely follow Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang on Oct. 7, but have yet to take place. Critics believed the delay was due to both sides’ cautious stance on drawing up details for the inspection of the North’s key nuclear test site at Punggye-ri and the “corresponding measures” by the US that Pyongyang has asked for in return for the dismantlement of the Yongbyon nuclear complex.

Experts suggest that North Korea may be planning to send ranking officials to the US for a meeting with Pompeo.

“Pompeo’s use of the word ‘here’ could mean that the North is planning to send a ranking official such as (the North’s nominal head of state) Kim Yong-chol or the country’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho -- and maybe even Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong -- to the US for the next high-level meeting,” Shin Beom-chul, head of the National Security and Unification Center at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, said.

Kim Yong-chol was Pompeo’s counterpart in the talks leading up to the first Trump-Kim summit in June, while Ri met with the US secretary of state last month on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. Kim Yo-jong has yet to deal directly with Pompeo as his official counterpart, though she attended the closed-door meeting between Pompeo and her brother in Pyongyang last month. At that meeting, she was the only North Korean present other than Kim Jong-un and an interpreter.

“But what’s important about the possible meeting with Pompeo is not where or who. It’s about reaching a consensus over the ‘content.’ It’s about how much or to what extent of the nuclear inspection the North will choose to accept and what the communist regime is willing to forsake. This will determine the course of the second Trump-Kim meeting,” he added.

The Seoul-based expert also sounded cautious about the fragility of the talks at their current stage, recalling the Six-Party Talks, which were halted in 2008 after failed negotiations involving nuclear verification and inspections.

The US and North Korea are believed to be planning a second summit between their leaders, which Trump has said will happen after the Nov. 6 US midterm elections in one of three or four possible locations.

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)

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