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U.S.-North Korea talks strike positive tone, but next steps unclear

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reported significant progress in his talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on a visit to continue negotiations over nuclear disarmament on the Korean peninsula. The process has been fraught with mistrust, stemming from decades of hostile relations, and the United States trade war with China could put a damper on plans for collaboration. John Yang reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    But first: The U.S. secretary of state visited North Korea yesterday to continue negotiations with a regime there over its nuclear program. It is a process that has seen its ups and its downs.

    And, as John Yang reports, this visit produced some guarded optimism.

  • John Yang:

    It was all smiles around the table for a Sunday lunch in Pyongyang, where North Korea's nuclear arsenal was the main menu item.

    Later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reported significant progress in his talks with North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-Un.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    We had a good, productive conversation. As President Trump has said, there are many steps along the way, and we took one of them today.

  • John Yang:

    The North's state-run television echoed that positive tone. The two sides agreed to establish working-level talks on a second summit between President Trump and Kim. Pompeo also told reporters that the North agreed to allow inspectors at a nuclear test site the North says it demolished last spring.

    The administration has expressed doubts that the site had actually been destroyed.

    Siegfried Hecker is former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He's visited North Korea several times.

  • Siegfried Hecker:

    There had been so much skepticism about whether what the North Koreans did actually would make a difference or not, whether it would make it easy for them to test. So it's a big deal to actually let someone come in and to evaluate whether that really sets back the test site significantly. It's an important confidence-building measure, as far as I'm concerned.

  • John Yang:

    President Trump's confidence is already running high. He recently expressed a fondness for the North Korean leader he once derided as Little Rocket Man.

  • Donald Trump:

    We fell in love now. OK?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Donald Trump:

    No, really. He wrote me beautiful letters.

  • John Yang:

    The president's top advisers have remained more skeptical of shifting from talk in 2017 of fire and fury to falling in love. Instead, they insist U.S. sanctions will stay in place until the North's nukes are gone.

    China's support is also critical for any North Korean nuclear disarmament. But maintaining Beijing's support is complicated by a growing trade war and other deep tensions.

    That was clear today as Pompeo met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

  • Wang Yi (through translator):

    We urge the United States to stop these kinds of mistaken actions. We believe China and the U.S. should stick to the correct path of cooperation.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    I regret that the strategic dialogue between our two countries was something that you all chose not to undertake.

  • John Yang:

    China's role aside, there's no framework yet for dismantling North Korea's nuclear arsenal. But Siegfried Hecker notes that Pyongyang has put aside further nuclear testing.

  • Siegfried Hecker:

    No testing means they will not be able to improve the sophistication of their nuclear weapons. And particularly what I would be worried about it is making the weapons smaller or to continue to develop the hydrogen thermonuclear bomb capabilities.

  • John Yang:

    The next steps are unclear, including the possible timing of that second summit between the two leaders.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.

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