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Pompeo Describes Talks With North Korea's Leader As 'Productive'


On Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un in the North Korean capital. Both sides say there has been some success in working toward nuclear disarmament and in setting up a second summit between Kim and President Trump. But then Pompeo's trip ended on what seems like a down note because he stopped to talk to officials in Beijing, and tensions between the U.S. and China came up. NPR's Anthony Kuhn is with me now from Beijing. Hi, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: All right. Let's start at the beginning. Pompeo and Kim say they made some progress in this meeting. What do they mean by progress?

KUHN: Well, they mean they seem to have narrowed down the options as far as a time and date - time and place for the talks are concerned. We don't know if they're going to be before or after November midterm elections in the U.S. Pompeo said that, you know, if they can get this meeting together, they expect real progress at a second summit. And Kim Jong Un, speaking to North Korean state media, was even more upbeat. He called his talks with Pompeo productive and wonderful. Those talks, he said, include denuclearization and other issues. And he said that he was optimistic about the way things are going with the U.S. because he and President Trump have deep confidence in each other.

KING: All right. Productive and wonderful. But did they talk about any specific progress on the issue of nukes in North Korea?

KUHN: They didn't go into a lot of detail there. They said that they made progress in implementing agreements made at the summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore, and of course nuclear disarmament is a big part of that. Kim Jong Un offered to let international inspectors come and check out a main nuclear test site, which is called Punggye-ri, but the value of that is sort of questionable because there are reports that that site may have actually collapsed in a previous nuclear test. So they may not be giving too much away there. What the U.S. really wants is an inventory - how many nuclear science do they have, how much fissile material, how many tests? And what Pyongyang wants is a peace treaty ending the Korean War, formally, and also an end to sanctions, and there have been no details on those big issues.

KING: All right. So after the North Korea visit, Mike Pompeo goes to Beijing, and what happens there?

KUHN: Well, he sits down with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi. And Wang Yi just lays into him, saying, look, you guys are escalating tensions on the trade issue, you're hurting us on Taiwan and you're making all these baseless accusations against our policies. And by that, he seemed to be referring to this speech Vice President Pence made last week in which he took a really confrontational tone with Beijing and said, you know, here it's going to be confrontation over competition - confrontation and competition. And Wang Yi basically said, look, you come here seeking cooperation with us on North Korea, and that's why we need to cooperate more and confront each other less.

KING: So is there a risk that the U.S. will lose China's cooperation on North Korea?

KUHN: Well, this certainly throws this question into doubt. You know, since the thaw in relations on the peninsula, both Beijing and Seoul are interested in investing in North Korea, and also Beijing and Seoul think that North Korea has made progress on this issue and therefore North Korea needs to get some sort of rewards to keep it in the game. But there are real questions now about cooperation between the U.S. and China over North Korea.

KING: NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Beijing. Thanks, Anthony.

KUHN: Sure, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.
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