SEOUL/WASHINGTON • United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met North Korean officials in Pyongyang yesterday, hoping to "fill in" details on how to dismantle the North's nuclear programme and recover the remains of US troops missing from the Korean War.
Mr Pompeo met Mr Kim Yong Chol, who played a key role with Mr Pompeo in arranging last month's summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, according to a pool report by reporters travelling with him.
It was uncertain whether he would meet Mr Kim Jong Un, the report said. He will spend the night in Pyongyang, his first overnight stay in North Korea.
"Today's meeting is a really meaningful meeting," Mr Kim Yong Chol told Mr Pompeo, who replied: "I look forward to it and I count on it being very productive."
At the Singapore summit, Mr Kim Jong Un made a broad commitment to "work towards denuclearisation", but fell short of details on how or when he would dismantle North Korea's nuclear programme, which it has pursued in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.
"The President told me he believes that Chairman Kim sees a different, brighter future for the people of North Korea. We both hope that's true," Mr Pompeo said on Twitter after a phone call with Mr Trump as he headed for North Korea.
He said he was seeking to "fill in" some details on North Korea's commitments and maintain the momentum towards implementing the agreement from the summit.
He would try to agree on at least an initial list of nuclear sites and an inventory that could be checked against the available intelligence, US intelligence officials said.
Also high on the agenda is the issue of the remains of US soldiers missing from the 1950-53 Korean War. Mr Trump said after the Singapore summit that Mr Kim had agreed to send the remains back to the US.
Both issues are considered essential tests of whether Mr Kim is serious about negotiations. North Korean officials have yet to demonstrate that in working-level talks, the intelligence officials said.
Mr Pompeo was greeted by Mr Kim Yong Chol and Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, who some Seoul officials expect to lead negotiations, according to the pool report.
Mr Kim Yong Chol is a hard-line former spy chief, while Mr Ri is a career diplomat with a long history of negotiations on the nuclear issue. Whether Mr Kim or Mr Ri leads negotiations could provide a clue on what approach Pyongyang will take, experts said.
Ahead of the Singapore summit, Mr Pompeo had said Trump would reject anything short of "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation".
But following talks on Sunday between US envoy Sung Kim and North Korean counterparts, this "CVID" language appears to have disappeared from the State Department lexicon. It says pressure will remain until North Korea denuclearises, but in statements this week, it redefined the US goal as "the final, fully verified denuclearisation" of the country.
Some US officials and experts have said the change in language amounted to a softening in approach. The State Department said its policy remains unchanged.
Mr Pompeo is due to meet officials from allies South Korea and Japan in Tokyo tomorrow.