U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo enjoyed a 90-minute “working dinner” Wednesday in New York City with Kim Yong-chol, a U.S. Treasury-sanctioned “Specially Designated Person,” intended to get the diplomats to know each other better and to discuss the preliminaries of denuclearization.
“Half of diplomacy is getting to know who you’re talking to,” an unnamed senior State Department official told reporters during a briefing on Secretary Pompeo’s meeting Wednesday. He noted the menu would likely be standard American fare before the State Department published photos of the menu, which featured filet mignon, corn puree, and homemade vanilla ice cream:
In photos released by the State Department, the diners can be seen toasting each other, though the State Department did not specify in the briefing what they were drinking. North Korean officials have a well–documented predilection for whiskey, however.
The dinner occurred in the home of the U.S. deputy representative to the United Nations, according to South Korean news outlet Yonhap.
The State Department official briefing reporters explained that the dinner was a necessary way for Pompeo to get a better feel for what Kim Yong-chol, widely considered Kim Jong-un’s right-hand man, would want out of a summit with President Donald Trump. President Trump canceled the June 12 scheduled summit with Kim in a letter last week, but State Department and White House officials have stated they are attempting to plan logistics for it as if it were still agreed upon.
“The two top dogs on each side are meeting to see what needs to be done in the two weeks … for the possibility of a summit,” the state official said. “We’ve been clear that what we’re looking for is CVID – complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization. And in order for a summit to be successful, the North Koreans have to do things that they have not done before.”
While insisting the two sides needed “diplomatic space in order to work” and refusing to provide details of the discussion, the senior department officials said it was necessary for the North Koreans to “between now and if we’re going to have a summit, they’re going to have to make clear what they’re willing to do.”
“I can tell you in broad brush what the goal is, is denuclearization,” the official said. “Also, as I think the President has made clear and Secretary Pompeo has made clear, the North Koreans have defined what they want as security, and they have determined some years ago that security could be found with nuclear weapons.”
“What we have to convince them is that, on the contrary, their nuclear program has made them less secure, that there’s a better path forward, that we can work with them,” the officials continued. “We’re willing to work with them to provide them the security guarantees they feel they need, and in fact, we’re willing to go beyond that to help them have greater economic prosperity. But they have to denuclearize.”
Pompeo made appreciative statements on Twitter about the dinner later Wednesday night, calling the potential Trump-Kim summit a “great opportunity” for North Korea:
Good working dinner with Kim Yong Chol in New York tonight. Steak, corn, and cheese on the menu. pic.twitter.com/1pu4K3oym7
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) May 31, 2018
The potential summit between @POTUS and Chairman Kim presents #DPRK with a great opportunity to achieve security and economic prosperity. The people of #NorthKorea can have a brighter future and the world can be more peaceful.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) May 31, 2018
President Trump also weighed in, referring to the meeting in New York and parallel discussions with North Korean officials in Singapore as “very good”:
Very good meetings with North Korea.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2018
Yonhap reported Thursday that “speculation” exists that Kim Yong-chol may travel to Washington, DC, and meet President Trump before he leaves the United States. It is his first visit to the country, and it is technically illegal for American citizens to do business with him, as he is a U.S. Treasury Specially Designated Person. The State Department confirmed this week that any necessary waivers for him to enter the country had been processed, but he would likely need a new set of paperwork to travel from New York to Washington.
Kim Yong-chol ran North Korea’s intelligence agency before becoming one of Kim Jong-un’s top diplomats. In that capacity, the U.S. deemed his actions “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States” in 2010. Among the crimes most famously attributed to him is the torpedoing of the Cheonan, a South Korean Navy ship, which killed 46 people. Kim Yong-chol also reportedly presided over various bombings of South Korean islands.
North Korea generally is considered one of the most repressive countries in the world. In its International Religious Freedom Report for 2017, published this week, the State Department accused North Korea of using “arbitrary executions, political prison camps, and torture amounting to crimes against humanity” to subdue anyone accused of practicing a religion, or even seeming too interested in a faith.