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CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s secret visit to Pyongyang to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “is a very positive sign” that the United States is taking “sensible and necessary steps to prepare for an eventual summit” and increasing the likelihood that a summit will take place, analysts said.

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that Pompeo, his nominee for secretary of state, met with Kim over Easter weekend.

The meeting was part of the preparation for Trump’s summit with Kim slated for late May or early June and was the first high-level meeting between a U.S. official and a North Korean leader since former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with Kim Jong Un’s deceased father Kim Jong Il in 2000.

‘Sensible, necessary steps’

Gary Samore, the White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction during the Obama administration, said Pompeo’s meeting with Kim signals that the Trump administration is actively preparing for the summit.

“I think the secret visit of Pompeo to Pyongyang is a very positive sign that President Trump is taking sensible and necessary steps to prepare for an eventual summit with Kim Jong Un,” said Samore, who played a key role in negotiating the 1994 North Korea nuclear agreement, the so-called Agreed Framework, that was never fully implemented.

Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, thinks the meeting also indicates Kim’s willingness to discuss denuclearization with the U.S.

“Kim, who has met with very few foreign leaders, met with him. [This] shows serious intent on the North Korean side,” he said.

According to Evans Revere, a former State Department official who has extensive experience in negotiations with North Korea, Pompeo’s meeting with Kim paved the way for Trump to be effective in his talks with Kim at the summit.

“They are working very hard on putting all the pieces together for an appropriate strategy and approach to deal with the North Korean leader,” Revere said.

Define denuclearization

Scott Snyder, a senior fellow for Korean studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, speculated that Pompeo met with Kim to see if an agreement on denuclearization would be possible by confirming directly with Kim that he is seriously committed to taking steps toward denuclearization.

Analysts said last month that even the process of agreeing on the definition of “denuclearization” could present a stumbling block before the summit.

“They needed to talk about the elements of any possible agreement or understanding that might be achieved at the [summit] meeting. I’m sure that Director Pompeo needed to confirm directly with Kim Jong Un that Kim is committed to the denuclearization process,” Snyder said.

Ken Gause, an expert on North Korea and director at the Center for Naval Analysis, echoed Snyder’s comment. Gause said the meeting was important to find out Kim’s view of denuclearization and if differences between Pyongyang and Washington on the topic could be bridged to reach an agreement.

“There are obviously many hurdles. … One of those hurdles is, and probably the reason why this meeting took place from the U.S. perspective at least, is that I think the Trump administration is very eager to find out, what is the North Korean view of denuclearization and how that should take place,” Gause said. “There has to be some common agreement on a way forward.”

North Korea is most likely looking for an “incentive-based step-by-step process [of denuclearization] that can be rolled out over a long period of time” Gause said, while the U.S. aims to condense the timeline for complete denuclearization by applying the Libyan model where “the North Koreans would be expected to give up their nuclear programs early in the process, in a verifiable way.”

Libya model

John Bolton, the president’s national security adviser, has said North Korea should follow the Libya model, in which long-time Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi agreed to give up all weapons of mass destruction in 2003, and soon after allowed in international inspectors to verify and oversee the dismantlement efforts.

Douglas Paal, director of the Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said, “If the North is more forthcoming than it has been in the past on our central concerns on the nuclear and missile threats, then the chances [for the summit meeting] increase.”

Trump said Wednesday he would cancel the upcoming summit with Kim or walk out of the summit meeting if the meeting becomes unproductive.

“If the meeting, when I’m there, is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting,” Trump said at a news conference at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida while meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and governor of New Mexico, while calling the historic summit “a good idea,” particularly in light of the escalating tensions between the U.S. and Pyongyang, had advice for Trump Thursday, saying: “No tweets, no bombast.”

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Richardson said North Korea is a very traditional country and “very sensitive” to what it perceives as insults, therefore Trump needs to “calibrate his remarks.”

There are “a lot of achievable issues that can happen with this summit that we should embrace,” Richardson said, such as curbing the use of nuclear weapons and freezing the exports of chemical weapons and missile materials.

Connie Kim contributed to this story, which originated with VOA’s Korean Service.