Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just concluded his fourth meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. It was a lunch hosted by the North Korean leader in Pyongyang. Perhaps because of his most recent, bitter experience in North Korea, Pompeo neglected to spend the night, and departed for Seoul shortly after lunch was concluded.

Prior to Pompeo’s sojourn, I queried officials in an interested Asian government as to what they expected to come out of the meeting. They said it was probably going to lay the groundwork for an upcoming summit between Kim and President Donald Trump, their second. (If I had to speculate, I’d estimate the summit occurs at the end of October or the first week of November, just before the midterm elections.) In other words, Pompeo’s visit wasn’t going to be statecraft, per se—it would be more akin to very, very complicated event planning.

Yet it appears that those observers may have been a little too pessimistic about what was to occur. The secretary of state made remarks in Seoul just after his visit, in which he suggested that North Korea will allow inspections of Pyungye-ri, a supposedly shuttered nuclear test site, and another missile engine test site. This, if nothing else, suggests genuine movement in the denuclearization process, which had been frozen when North Korea declined to allow inspectors of Pyungye-ri earlier this summer. (Though it’s worth noting that North Korea, per Pompeo, did not agree to inspections of Yongbyon, the country’s main nuclear facility.)

In his Seoul remarks, Pompeo did not address the signing of a “peace declaration” between the United States and North Korea, which the South Korean government has been pushing for. The declaration would not be a formal treaty, requiring ratification, which would end the Korean War. Instead, the way the South Korean government sees it, the “peace declaration” would be a first step in the denuclearization process, as a sort of trust-building measure. Then, only after North Korea’s “complete, verifiable, irreversible” denuclearization would a formal peace treaty be signed.

The U.S. administration remains wary of South Korea's overtures, especially given the tone evinced by South Korean president Moon Jae-in when he visited Pyongyang last month. At the Mass Games, Moon—who was elected with 41 percent of the vote in a three-way race against candidates who took a harsher line on the North—gushed, "I witnessed the amazing development of Pyongyang. My heart was overwhelmed after realizing what kind of country Chairman Kim Jong-un and our brethren in the North are trying to create," providing ample evidence to those South Korean conservatives who fear their president is far too sympathetic to the dictatorship in the North.

There are also suggestions that the Moon administration is pushing for the forthcoming Kim-Trump summit to occur in Seoul, so that it can further influence the process. Kim, for his part, wants the meeting to be in Pyongyang. But neither location would be genuinely “neutral.”

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