US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was travelling to North Korea today in preparation for an upcoming summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump disclosed the trip, which was not announced ahead of time by the State Department, during remarks at the White House on his intention to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal.
Pompeo's visit will come just a day after Kim returned from China, his second trip to the neighbouring country in six weeks to meet President Xi Jinping.
The news about Pompeo came as anticipation is building over the planned summit to discuss the Kim regime's nuclear weapons programme that could take place by the end of June.
"Plans are being made, relationships are building," Trump said. "Hopefully, a deal will happen and with the help of China, South Korea and Japan a future of great prosperity and security can be achieved for everybody."
Trump made no mention, however, of the three American prisoners in North Korea. Two people with knowledge of the trip told the Washington Post that Pompeo was expected to bring them home.
"We'll all soon be finding out," Trump replied after a reporter asked him about the prisoners.
Three Korean-Americans - Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Kim Sang Duk - have been accused of various acts considered hostile to the government. Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have dropped hints recently that they could be freed very soon.
"A lot of good things have already happened with respect to the hostages," Trump said at the White House. "And I think you're going to see very good things. As I said yesterday, stay tuned."
The main purpose of Pompeo's visit to North Korea is to finalise an exact time and location for the summit between Trump and the North Korean leader, how long their talks will last and to clarify expectations.
"We also want to make sure what our expectations are not," Pompeo said. "We are not going to head down the path we headed down before. We will not relieve sanctions until such time as we have achieved our objectives."
In his second visit to North Korea in as many months, and his first as secretary of state, Pompeo is flying into one of the world's most reclusive countries with no assurances of exactly who he will meet. During his last visit over Easter, when he was CIA director, Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un in an effort to assess what a summit might accomplish.
Pompeo may get an earful of complaints from the officials he meets. Pyongyang has been disgruntled over what it called "misleading" assertions from some US officials that North Korea is considering denuclearisation because of its fear of US military prowess and to alleviate punishing sanctions - a "maximum pressure campaign" laid by Pompeo's predecessor, Rex Tillerson, who was fired by Trump in March.
North Korea made its displeasure clear on Monday. A spokesman for its Foreign Ministry labelled the U.S. claims of credit for the apparent shift in North Korean policy a "dangerous attempt" to upset detente between two nations whose leaders only a few months ago were threatening nuclear war.
- additional reporting AP