Top US diplomat to return to N. Korea as Trump hails Kim

By Agence France-Presse

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday agreed to return to North Korea next month to push forward denuclearization talks as President Donald Trump predicted breakthroughs soon.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has accepted an invitation from North Korea to return to Pyongyang in October 2018 (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN) US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has accepted an invitation from North Korea to return to Pyongyang in October 2018 (AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

Pompeo met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly with his North Korean counterpart, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, to discuss plans for his fourth trip to the longtime US arch-enemy.

Pompeo accepted an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to return to Pyongyang in October to move ahead on efforts for "the final, fully verified denuclearization of the DPRK," the State Department said, referring to the North by its official name of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Pompeo will also try to arrange a second summit between Trump and Kim, whose meeting in June in Singapore was the first ever between sitting leaders of the two states.

Trump has hailed his initiative with North Korea as a signature foreign policy success and heaped praise on Kim.

His praise comes just one year after he mocked Kim as a "rocket man" at the United Nations and threatened a forceful military response.

Critics question how much North Korea has actually changed.

The regime, considered by human rights groups to be among the world's most repressive, has carried out six nuclear tests and says it has missiles that can hit the United States, although many analysts doubt its boasts.

Making a deal

Trump announced Wednesday that Kim sent him a new, "extraordinary" letter and said he expected the second summit to take place "fairly quickly."

"We have a very good relationship. He likes me, I like him," he later told a press conference in New York.

"I really believe he wants to get it done. He wants to make a deal, I want to make a deal."

Trump said that the United States would have been drawn into a war with North Korea if he had not been elected.

"If I wasn't elected, you would have had a war," Trump said before adding that "nobody is talking about that" anymore.

Speaking earlier as he chaired a special session of the UN Security Council on non-proliferation, Trump said: "Kim Jong Un, a man I have gotten to know and like, wants peace and prosperity for North Korea."

But Trump also called for the enforcement of sanctions, which the United States has spent years building through the Security Council in response to North Korea's nuclear and missile tests.

He said the United States accused "some nations" of violating sanctions, including through illegal ship-to-ship transfer of oil to North Korean tankers at sea.

South Korea urges movement

Pushing hard for reconciliation is South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a dove who traveled this month to Pyongyang for the second inter-Korean summit this year.

Addressing the UN General Assembly, Moon said that North Korea "moved out of longstanding isolation on its own initiative and stands before the international community once again."

"Now it is the international community's turn to respond positively to North Korea's new choices and efforts," he said.

In contrast with Trump's call for sustained sanctions, Moon has called for a step-by-step approach to nudge Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in exchange for sanctions relief.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who rose to political prominence as a hardliner on North Korea, has also rejected a quick easing of sanctions, but at the United Nations on Tuesday said that he too was willing to meet Kim.

Nevertheless Abe said the focus of any summit would be to resolve the fate of Japanese civilians kidnapped by Pyongyang's spies in the 1970s and 1980s.

Pompeo, in an interview broadcast Wednesday with CBS News, said he believed that North Korea would allow international inspectors to verify any commitments.

"We're not going to buy a pig in a poke," he said.

"We're going to get this right, we're going to deliver on this commitment that Chairman Kim has made to the world, and then there's going to be a brighter future for the North Korean people, and there'll be a more peaceful world."