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Pompeo mum on Kim Jong Un meeting amid confirmation process

CIA director and secretary of state-designate Mike Pompeo met secretly with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over Easter weekend, President Trump confirmed on Wednesday. At his recent confirmation hearing, Pompeo spoke hopefully about the upcoming Trump-Kim summit, never mentioning in public or behind closed doors that he had personally already met with Kim. William Brangham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The United States' chief spy, and possibly soon-to-be chief diplomat, has Washington buzzing tonight. Mike Pompeo's clandestine mission to Pyongyang sought to lay the groundwork for a U.S.-North Korea summit.

    William Brangham begins our coverage.

  • William Brangham:

    The news broke last night just as President Trump was hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mr. Trump's private club in Palm Beach, Florida.

    This morning, Mr. Trump confirmed that Mike Pompeo, CIA director and secretary of state-designate, had met secretly with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over Easter weekend in North Korea. The president tweeted, "The meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed. Details of summit are being worked out now."

    That unprecedented summit could come in May or early June, and the effort to roll back North Korea's nuclear program will be topic A.

    At his confirmation hearing last Thursday, Pompeo spoke hopefully about the upcoming Trump-Kim summit.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    I'm optimistic that the United States government can set the conditions for that appropriately, so that the president and the North Korean leader can have that conversation, will set us down the course of achieving a diplomatic outcome that America so desperately — America and the world so desperately need.

  • William Brangham:

    The CIA director never mentioned, in public or behind closed doors, that he had already met with Kim. The chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Bob Corker, welcomed the news today.

  • Sen. Bob Borker, R-Tenn.:

    I'm fine with it. I really am. I have known for a long, long time that the back channels we have had with North Korea have been through our intelligence agencies and the CIA in particular. So, I think it's natural that he would be a person that would be a first contact.

  • William Brangham:

    But the committee's ranking Democrat, Bob Menendez, was highly critical of Pompeo's omission, and said that, as a result, he will oppose his nomination.

  • Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.:

    If truth and being forthcoming as the secretary of state nominee is one of the standards we'd like to see for the next secretary of state, I think he failed that.

  • William Brangham:

    Pompeo, while on the Hill today lobbying for his nomination, wouldn't answer questions about the visit. Despite that, President Trump waved off any concerns today about his nominee's prospects.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I think he's going to come through. I think Mike Pompeo is extraordinary. I think Mike Pompeo will go down as one of the great secretary of states.

  • William Brangham:

    China's leader Xi Jinping had his own summit with Kim Jong-un, in Beijing, last month. Today, a spokeswoman for China's Foreign Ministry again encouraged the U.S. to formalize its own summit plans.

  • Hua Chuying (through translator):

    We welcome the United States and North Korea beginning direct contacts and dialogues. As the saying goes, well begun is half done. We hope the dialogue will be carried out smoothly and yield good outcomes.

  • William Brangham:

    Japan is less enthusiastic about all this, and North Korea figured high on the Trump-Abe agenda this week. But the prime minister was careful not to sound critical when he spoke to reporters yesterday.

  • Shinzo Abe (through translator):

    Both Japan and the United States have been demonstrating leadership in applying the maximum pressure campaign against North Korea, which actually successfully made the North Korean side start seeking dialogue with us. So it is fair to say that our approach has proven to be successful and the right one.

  • William Brangham:

    At the same time, Tokyo is demanding that North Korea abandons its medium-range ballistic missiles, the kind that have already flown over parts of Japan.

    The Japanese are also insisting on the release of their citizens who were abducted by the North decades ago. Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts between North and South Korea are also picking up steam.

    Kim Jong-un and South Korea's President Moon Jae-in are to meet next week in the demilitarized zone between their nations. They hope to lay the groundwork for a peace treaty formally ending the Korean War.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we will get the take of one of President Trump's advisers on the Pompeo visit to North Korea a little later in the program.

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