TOKYO - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spent several hours with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on Sunday, later describing his talks as "productive" and "another step forward," as he attempted to set the stage for a summit between Kim and President Donald Trump.
Pompeo and Kim met for about two hours and then had lunch together.
"It's good to see you again," Pompeo told Kim as the two men shook hands for the cameras before lunch. The Secretary of State then put his hand on Kim's shoulder and the pair smiled.
"Well, I am really pleased for this opportunity. After having a nice meeting we can enjoy a meal together," Kim said as they walked down a hallway for lunch.
As they sat for lunch, Kim said, "It's a very nice day that promises a good future for both countries."
Pompeo said he had a "great visit" and a "very successful morning," adding that Trump sent his regards. Both men spoke through translators.
The last trip to North Korea for the secretary of state, in July, did not go so well. He came away from it saying the two sides had made progress, only for North Korea to denounce him for making "gangster-like" demands and raising "cancerous" issues. On that occasion, he did not meet Kim.
He then planned to return in late August, only for Trump to cancel the trip at the last minute as it became apparent that the two sides remained far apart on their approach to the negotiations.
But a summit of the leaders of North and South Korea last month has helped to rekindle the peace process, as has the apparent desire of both Kim and Trump to meet again for a second summit.
An official accompanying the delegation who declined to be named said the trip had gone "better than the last time" but added it is going to be a "long haul."
Later on Sunday Pompeo flew to Seoul where he met South Korean President Moon Jae-in. He said he would brief Moon in private but added he had "a good, productive conversation" with Kim.
"As President Trump said, there are many steps along the way and we took one of them today. It was another step forward. So this is, I think, a good outcome for all of us," Pompeo said.
Moon said he hoped a Trump-Kim summit would happen soon, and would "make irreversible, decisive progress in terms of denuclearization as well as the peace process."
At the heart of the recent impasse has been two fundamentally different approaches to denuclearization.
Pompeo has insisted that sanctions on North Korea should remain in place until the country completely dismantles its nuclear program.
The governments of both North and South Korea, however, say that is unrealistic. Instead, they want both sides to take a "phased" approach, where Pyongyang is rewarded as it takes gradual steps to roll back its nuclear program.
On his way to Asia from Washington, Pompeo stuck to his guns, indicating that the spirit of the agreement between Trump and Kim at Singapore in June was that "we will get to denuclearization in a fully verified, irreversible way, and then we will actually deliver on the commitments to make this brighter future for the North Korean people."
Pompeo met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Saturday, and the two men "agreed that pressure must continue until the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) denuclearizes," according to State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
That is not how Pyongyang sees things, nor is it the approach being advocated by Seoul.
After a summit between the leaders of the two Koreas last month, Kim said he was prepared to permanently dismantle his country's main nuclear site at Yongbyon, but only if the United States took "corresponding steps" to build trust.
North Korea has been asking for the United States to formally declare that the 1950-1953 Korean War is formally over, as a way to bring an end to hostile relations between the two countries. The war concluded with an armistice but no peace treaty.
In the past few days, North Korea has also renewed its demands for sanctions to be eased.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho told the United Nations General Assembly at the end of last month that "coercive" sanctions were lethal to trust-building between the two nations, and that without trust "there is no way we will unilaterally disarm ourselves first."
Pompeo was also aiming to set up a location and a time for a second summit between Trump and Kim, although he warned in advance that he might not be able to nail down all the details on this trip and probably wouldn't be in a position to announce anything right away.
Pompeo will also visit Beijing Monday as he concludes his four-nation visit to the region.