In a sign that a potential meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may come to fruition, the United States and North Korea have reportedly been holding direct backchannel planning talks.
According to CNN, intelligence officials from the two nations have held several secret discussions, including at least one rendezvous in a neutral country, to determine the location of the highly anticipated Trump-Kim summit, which was announced last month following strong diplomatic outreach by South Korea.
“Great progress being made,” Trump tweeted in March. “Meeting being planned!”
The meeting would be historic if it occurs, marking the first time that a sitting U.S. president met directly with a North Korean leader.
While the summit could be a major step toward de-escalating nuclear tensions on the peninsula, it could also pose a significant risk for the two unpredictable leaders, who have spent months trading threats and personal insults.
“The stakes are very high,” Jenny Town, assistant director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said in a phone interview in March.
The status of the talks was further thrown into question late last month when Trump appointed John Bolton, an extreme foreign policy hawk, to be his new director of national security. Bolton, who served as ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush, has previously suggested that the Trump administration should hit North Korea with a first strike in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear provocations.
“Bolton over and over again has demonstrated he doesn’t have much patience, nor respect, for the diplomatic process,” Alexandra Bell, a former State Department official during the Obama administration and senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control & Non-Proliferation, said after Bolton’s hiring.
But the backchannel communications between the Trump administration and the Kim regime suggest that the meeting could, in fact, come together.
According to CNN, North Korea would like the meeting to take place in Pyongyang, something that the U.S. may not agree to. Mongolia has also been presented as a location for the meeting.
Officials are targeting May or June for the potential summit.