Trump confirms CIA chief had secret talks with Kim Jong Un

US President Donald Trump confirms Mike Pompeo's meeting with Kim Jong Un, says summit details being worked out

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump confirmed yesterday that his Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief has held secret talks with North Korea's leader in Pyongyang, as the South said it was exploring paths to a peace deal with the nuclear-armed North.

Seoul's push for discussions on formally declaring an end to inter-Korean hostilities was the latest in a series of diplomatic initiatives involving the divided Korean peninsula.

The activity has raised hopes for a major breakthrough from a pair of upcoming and potentially historic summits.

The latest shock move was CIA director Mike Pompeo's face-to-face with North Korea's leader, reportedly during the first weekend this month.

"Mr Mike Pompeo met with Mr Kim Jong Un in North Korea last week. Meeting went smoothly and a good relationship was formed. Details of summit are being worked out now," Mr Trump tweeted.

"Denuclearisation will be a great thing for the world, but also for North Korea," he added, regarding efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.

Mr Kim is expected to meet South Korean President Moon Jae In at a landmark meeting next Friday.

Mr Trump earlier said the summit could, with his "blessing", explore a peace treaty to formally end the conflict.

"We are looking at the possibility of replacing the armistice regime on the Korean peninsula with a peace regime," a senior official at South Korea's presidential Blue House said yesterday.

"But this is not something we can do by ourselves. It needs close discussions with relevant parties including North Korea."

The 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving the two sides technically at war.

The 4km-wide demilitarised zone between the two countries bristles with minefields and fortifications.

Reaching a final treaty would be fraught with complications.

While the US-led United Nations command, China and North Korea are signatories to the decades-old armistice. South Korea is not.

Both Pyongyang and Seoul claim sovereignty over the whole Korean peninsula, but a treaty could imply mutual recognition of each other.

The North would be likely to demand the withdrawal of US troops, while the South's national security adviser Chung Eui Yong said yesterday that Seoul and Washington wanted to see Pyongyang give up its nuclear ambitions.

Next week's meeting will be the third summit between the North and South since the armistice was signed.

Key moments, including Mr Kim and Mr Moon's first handshake, will be televised live, both sides agreed at working-level talks, Seoul said.

Mr Trump plans to hold a summit meeting with Mr Kim within the next two months.

The pair have not spoken directly, the White House said, but Mr Trump revealed on Tuesday there had been contact at "high levels" to prepare for the historic meeting - an apparent reference to Mr Pompeo's visit.

He also said "five locations" were being considered.

"That will be taking place probably in early June or before that assuming things go well."

US officials said no decision has yet been made on a meeting venue. But China, North Korea, South Korea and Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas are seen as possible locations.

Beijing is North Korea's sole major ally, but relations deteriorated after China supported UN sanctions on Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons programme.

Yesterday, reporters asked China Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying about reports of Mr Pompeo's visit.

"We welcome the direct contact and dialogue between the DPRK and the US," she said, using the official acronym for the North.

"As the saying goes, a good start is half the battle." - AFP