US President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that Washington's chief diplomat Mike Pompeo is on his way to North Korea to prepare for a landmark nuclear summit, as a flurry of diplomacy with Pyongyang at the center gathered pace.
Mr Trump announced the mission just minutes before Mr Pompeo arrived in Japan to refuel before flying on to Pyongyang, and as the president declared he was withdrawing from a landmark nuclear deal with another bitter United States adversary, Iran.
Mr Pompeo flew out of Washington under cover of darkness late Monday aboard an Air Force 757 accompanied by a handful of senior aides, a security detail and two journalists, who were given just four hours' notice of his departure.
While Trump said it would be a "great thing" if the American detainees were freed, Pompeo, speaking to reporters en route to Pyongyang, said he had not received such a commitment but hoped North Korea would "do the right thing".
"We think relationships are building with North Korea".
Mr. Trump and Mr. Pompeo have said they want a firm commitment this time around from North Korea for "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization". "We're not going to do this in small increments, where the world is coerced into relieving economic pressures".
"At this very moment, Secretary Pompeo is on his way to North Korea in preparation for my upcoming meeting with Kim Jong Un", Trump said in a televised address from the White House.
Pompeo arrived in Pyongyang on Wednesday to prepare an unprecedented summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump, while the USA president signalled the possibility that three Americans detained in the country could soon be released. "It would be a great thing if they are". The three Korean-Americans - Kim Dong-chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim - are all accused by the North of anti-state activities. The United States no longer makes empty threats.
Pompeo made a secret visit to North Korea over the Easter weekend, becoming the first U.S. official known to have met Kim, to lay the groundwork for the planned summit. The first was Madeleine Albright in 2000 who went as part of an unsuccessful bid to arrange a meeting between then-president Bill Clinton and Kim's father Kim Jong Il. USA officials said Mr. Pompeo aims to lock both down on Wednesday so that a formal announcement can be made.
Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are expected to meet later this month or early in June for talks that would have been almost unthinkable a year ago, when the two mercurial leaders were trading barbs and Pyongyang tested a barrage of missiles. Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi also spoke by phone Tuesday. But momentum for diplomacy built this year as North and South Korea have moved to ease tensions, with Mr. Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in holding their own summit last month.