SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo began a second day of talks in North Korea on Saturday attempting to agree details on how to dismantle the country’s nuclear program, and both sides said they had things to “clarify” from the previous day.
After spending his first night in the North Korean capital in three visits so far this year, Pompeo left the government guest house where he spent the night to make a secure phone call to U.S. President Donald Trump to provide an update on the talks.
Pompeo then sat down again with Kim Yong Chol, a top North Korean party official and former spy agency chief who played a key role with Pompeo in arranging the June 12 summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.
Kim Yong Chol said that the two had had “very serious discussion on very important matters yesterday” and joked that as a result, Pompeo “might have not slept well last night”at the prestigious Paekhwawon, or 100 Flowers Garden, guest house.
Pompeo replied: “Director Kim, I slept just fine. We did have a good set of conversations yesterday. I appreciate that and I look forward to our continued conversations today as well.”
Pompeo reiterated that Trump was “committed to a brighter future for North Korea.”
“So the work that we do, the path toward complete denuclearization, building a relationship between our two countries, is vital for a brighter North Korea and the success that our two presidents demand of us,” Pompeo said.
Kim agreed that the work was important. “There are things that I have to clarify,” he said.
“There are things that I have to clarify as well,” Pompeo responded.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters that U.S. and North Korean officials had set up working groups to deal with “nitty gritty stuff,” including verification of efforts to achieve denuclearization, which would be headed on the U.S. side by Sung Kim, a Korean-American who is also ambassador to the Philippines.
Nauert said Pompeo’s discussions with North Korean officials also included repatriation of American Korean War remains.
On Friday, Pompeo held nearly three hours of talks with Kim Yong Chol and a working dinner that Nauert described as further “relationship building.” She said the dinner lasted an hour and 45 minutes and at times the two were “cracking jokes” and “exchanging pleasantries.”
It was uncertain whether Pompeo would meet with Kim Jong Un as he did on his previous trips before heading later in the day for Tokyo.
Nauert declined to characterize the discussions so far, but said, “We expect them to live up to their commitments.”
North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said Pompeo’s delegation was taking part in high-level talks for implementing the Singapore summit statement, but gave no more details.
In Singapore, Kim Jong Un made a broad commitment to “work toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but offered no details of how or when North Korea might dismantle a weapons program that Trump has vowed will not be allowed to threaten the United States.
Before arriving in North Korea, Pompeo said he was seeking to “fill in” some details on North Korea’s commitments and maintain the momentum toward implementing the agreement from the summit.
U.S. intelligence officials told Reuters that Pompeo would try to agree on at least an initial list of nuclear sites and an inventory that could be checked against available intelligence.
Also high on the agenda is the issue of the remains of U.S. soldiers missing from the 1950-53 Korean War. Trump said after the Singapore summit that Kim had agreed to send the remains back to the United States.
Both issues are considered essential tests of whether Kim is serious about talks. North Korean officials have yet to demonstrate that in working-level talks, the intelligence officials said.
Some officials in the State and Defense Departments and inU.S. intelligence agencies are worried that Trump has put himself at a disadvantage by overstating the results of the Singapore summit.
Ahead of the summit, Pompeo said Trump would reject anything short of “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.”
But following talks on Sunday between U.S. 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 denuclearizes, but in statements this week, it redefined the U.S. goal as “the final, fully verified denuclearization” of the country.
Some U.S. officials and experts have said the change in language amounted to a softening in approach. The State Department said its policy remains unchanged.
Pompeo’s talks will be closely watched in the region. He is due to meet officials from allies South Korea and Japan in Tokyo also on Sunday.
Reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul and David Brunnstrom in Tokyo; Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham and David Chance in Washington; Editing by Leslie Adler