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Mike Pompeo, CIA chief, met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un - reports

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WASHINGTON, April 18: CIA director Mike Pompeo travelled to Pyongyang for a secret meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, US media report.

The meeting to prepare for direct talks between US President Donald Trump and Mr Kim took place over Easter weekend, unnamed officials told the Washington Post and Reuters.

Earlier Mr Trump acknowledged the US had held direct talks at high levels.

He was speaking as he hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Florida.

"We have had direct talks at... extremely high levels," he said, adding that five locations were being considered for the Kim Jong-un meeting.

What do we know about the 'secret meeting'?

The news that Donald Trump's nominee for US Secretary of State had travelled to North Korea for a clandestine meeting with Mr Kim was first reported by The Washington Post newspaper.

Very little is known about the talks other than that they were to prepare for the upcoming Trump-Kim summit.

According to the paper, the meeting took place soon after Mr Pompeo was nominated as secretary of state and is attributed to two anonymous sources "with direct knowledge of the trip".

Later the Reuters news agency said the report had been confirmed to them by senior officials.

How do the US and North Korea communicate?

The US does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, although diplomats have visited in the past and there are some so-called "back channels" used to communicate with Pyongyang.

Mr Pompeo's trip was the highest level meeting with a North Korean leader since then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with Kim Jong-il, the father of the current leader, in Pyongyang.

In 2014, the then-head of National Intelligence James Clapper visited North Korea in a secret mission to negotiate the release of two US citizens. Mr Clapper did not meet with the North Korean leader during his trip.

When and where might a summit take place?

Mr Trump stunned the international community last month by accepting Pyongyang's suggestion for direct talks. It would be unprecedented for a sitting US president to meet a North Korean leader.

He said the summit would take place either in early June or "a little before that" and that several sites were under consideration but that none of them were in the US.

Analysts have speculated that a location for talks could be the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea, Beijing, another Asian country, Europe or even a vessel in international waters.

North Korea has been isolated for decades because of its well-documented human rights abuses and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, in defiance of international laws and UN sanctions.

It has carried out six nuclear tests, and has missiles that could reach the US.

But South Korea's hosting of the Winter Olympics this year gave an unexpected window for diplomacy and in the weeks since there have been a flurry of visits to the North from China, South Korea and now the US.

What does the timing of this news tell us?

Mr Trump's estimate that a meeting could take place in June or earlier appears to be one the administration is taking seriously.

But news of Mr Pompeo's visit is also likely to overshadow the other key diplomatic balancing act under way, which is the important relationship with Japan, a key US ally and neighbour of North Korea.

There have been fears in Tokyo that Mr Trump's plans for bilateral talks could sideline Japan and Mr Abe is currently in Washington for talks with the US leader.

Relations between the two men appeared cordial, this second time that Mr Trump welcomed Mr Abe to his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Mr Trump insisted on Tuesday that the two countries were "very unified on the subject of North Korea".

However, observers say Mr Abe's goal for his US trip will be to persuade the US president as much as he can not to sway from the West's hard line on Pyongyang.

The Japanese prime minister has repeatedly sought to portray a close personal relationship with Mr Trump and was the first foreign leader to meet him in New York after his election victory in 2016.

Published : April 18, 2018 09:06 AM Agencies