On Tuesday, the Washington Post, followed by the New York Times, reported that Mike Pompeo, the current director of the Central Intelligence Agency, secretly traveled to North Korea to meet with that country’s leader Kim Jong-un ahead of a planned summit in either May or June between Kim and U.S. President Donald J. Trump. Details of what the two discussed during their meeting remain unknown.
Neither North Korea nor the United States have publicized the visit. Pompeo is also Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, a post that remains vacant since Rex Tillerson’s sacking in March.
Pompeo’s reported meeting with Kim Jong-un took place over Easter weekend, according to the Post. The meeting is the most reliable signal that momentum toward a historic summit between the U.S. president and the North Korean leader is real.
Pompeo’s meeting with Kim marks the highest-level encounter between sitting U.S. and North Korean officials since former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il, in October 2000.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in 2014 traveled to North Korea while Kim Jong-un was leader, but no sitting U.S. official has met Kim Jong-un since he became the leader of North Korea in December 2011.
Reports of Pompeo’s trip align with earlier reporting that the CIA has been the primary diplomatic conduit between the United States and North Korea, owing in part to Pompeo’s close personal relationship with Trump.
It remains unclear, however, if Trump had been briefed on the possibility of an invitation from Kim Jong-un for a summit when he chose to accept the meeting in early March, after South Korean envoy Chun Eui-yong, President Moon Jae-in’s national security adviser, extended the invitation on Kim’s behalf to the U.S. president.
Pompeo has spoken about the prospect for diplomacy with North Korea since returning from his trip. During his recent confirmation hearing for secretary of state before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he said that he was “optimistic that the United States government can set the conditions for that appropriately so that the president and the North Korean leader can have that conversation [that] will set us down the course of achieving a diplomatic outcome that America so desperately—America and the world so desperately need.”
Pompeo’s meeting with Kim comes as the once reclusive North Korean leader has started to meet a range of foreign officials and leaders. In addition to Pompeo, Kim hosted Chun Eui-yong and South Korean spy chief Suh Hoon in Pyongyang. Kim additionally traveled to China to meet with President Xi Jinping, the first meeting between him and the Chinese leader. Kim also recently received Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, in Pyongyang.