Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, expressed “joy” and “satisfaction” after his secret meeting earlier this month in Pyongyang with Mike Pompeo, director of the CIA, saying the two men share the “same kind of guts”, according to sources.
Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported on Monday that Kim adopted a friendly approach to Donald Trump’s emissary, who is set to replace Rex Tillerson as US secretary of state, and apparently informed Mr Pompeo that he is ready to offer to scrap his nuclear arsenal when he sits down for full talks.
“This is the first time that I have met someone with the same kind of guts”, Kim told Mr Pompeo during their discussions over the Easter weekend, the Asahi reported, quoting unnamed sources.
The two men met on three or four occasions over the three days Mr Pompeo was in North Korea, the newspaper reported, with Mr Kim also offering to release three US nationals serving prison terms in the North. Kim also reportedly indicated that he would not be demanding the withdrawal of US troops from the South as a concession for scrapping his expensively assembled nuclear armoury.
A South Korean newspaper on Monday reported that Mr Kim’s offer to halt nuclear weapons tests at its Punggye-ri proving grounds may not be as significant a breakthrough as has been suggested because the site has been so badly destabilised by previous underground tests that it is no longer safe to use.
North Korean missile ranges
The Chosun Ilbo newspaper said the six tests carried out at the site started in 2006, with the most recent detonation, on September 3 last year, estimated to have been as large as a 280 kilotons.
The tests have made the ground unstable and have been linked to 11 earthquakes with a 2.5 magnitude or more, the most recent of which was on Monday. The tremors have caused landslides and tunnels to collapse, with one report suggesting there could be a major release of radiation if more tunnels collapse and are exposed to the open air.
The paper quoted analysts as saying that the offer to halt research at Punngye-ri is “useless” because the site can no longer be used. However, experts examining satellite imagery of the test venue over recent months have suggested that it appears to be operating normally and that any relative slowdown in activity might simply be a result of the ongoing political changes in the region.
Mr Trump has praised the progress that has been made on the issue of eliminating the North’s nuclear and long-range missile capabilities.
But analysts have also suggest that Mr Kim – and other leaders – have got wise to the president’s “chummy” approach to international politics.
“Mr Kim and his political advisers have clearly evaluated how Mr Trump engages in foreign policy discussions and are aware that he responds very well to compliments, he likes to be the centre of attention and responds well when his ego is stroked”, said Stephen Nagy, an associate professor of international relations at Tokyo’s International Christian University.
“The North knows that the way to forge a relationship with Mr Trump is through flattery and by creating some kind of shared narrative, not through encouraging conflict”, he said.