WASHINGTON/SEOUL - The US and North Korea have been holding secret, direct talks to prepare for a summit between President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, a sign that planning for the highly anticipated meeting is progressing, reported CNN, citing several administration officials familiar with the discussions.
Trump agreed to the summit on the spot when visiting South Korean officials - South Korea's National Security Adviser Chung Eui Yong and intelligence chief Suh Hoon - presented him the invitation from Mr Kim early last month (March ).
The timeline for the Trump-Kim summit remains unknown although the South Korean side have said that it would take place by May.
Officials said the current target is late May or even June, according to CNN.
According to CNN, the talks between the US and North Korea's intelligence officials are aimed at laying the ground for a meeting between Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo, who awaits Congressional confirmation for his appointment as a secretary of state, and the head of the North's Reconnaissance General Bureau, whose identity has not been confirmed.
Both sides have met several times in a third country to determine a location for the historic summit, US officials told CNN.
CNN quoted US officials as saying that the summit will be held at the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar - a proposal that North Korea has already relayed to the US, according Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun.
South Korea's National Intelligence Service Chief Suh Hoon has been in close contact with his US and North Korean counterparts, reported Korea Herald.
South Korea's presidential office said on Sunday (April 08) while they cannot confirm whether such secret talks have been taking place, it is a certainly a "good sign" in paving the way for what would be the first summit between North Korea and the US.
"Even if we were aware of the talks, we cannot comment on it," said an anonymous Cheong Wad Dae official, according to Yonhap News Agency. "If there were such talks, we think it's a positive move. It's a good signal that the talks are going back and forth (between the US and North Korea)."
Analysts said the efforts show that the US intelligence agencies are taking the lead for summit preparations, but expressed scepticism whether such moves were headed by the North's Reconnaissance General Bureau, which deals with clandestine operations against South Korea.
"It's a natural step in the right direction. It's an extension of the communication channels established by the three countries' top intelligence chiefs." said Hong Min, director of the North Korean studies division at the Korea Institute for National Unification.
"But we cannot say for certain that the US counterpart in the North was Reconnaissance General Bureau. It is more likely that the North's United Front Department would be in charge… What we will see next is the exchanges of presidential envoys between the US and North Korea."
Later this month (April), Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae In are to hold what would be the three inter-Korean summit.
Both Koreas held working-level talks over the weekend to discuss establishing a direct telephone link between their leaders and other communication issues ahead of the April 27 inter-Korean summit.
The meeting on Saturday (April 7) at the North Korean side of the border village of Panmunjom was attended by three working-level officials from the South and their three to four counterparts from the North, according to Seoul officials.
Intensively discussed during the talks that lasted for about three hours were such issues as where to put the hotline, how to operate it and technical measures to prevent possible wiretapping, they said.