Pompeo says U.S. talks with North Korea moving in the right direction

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he's confident talks with North Korean officials are moving in the right direction and that a North Korean envoy will travel to Washington to deliver a personal letter from leader Kim Jong-un to President Donald Trump.

High-ranking Kim Jong-un aide expected to deliver personal letter from leader Kim Jong-un to Trump

Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of North Korea, leaves the Millennium Hotel on Wednesday in New York. He arrived earlier in the day for talks on salvaging a summit meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. (Corey Sipkin/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he's confident talks with North Korean officials are moving in the right direction and that a North Korean envoy will travel to Washington to deliver a personal letter from leader Kim Jong-un to President Donald Trump.

"Our two countries face a pivotal moment in our relationship in which it could be nothing short of tragic to let this opportunity go to waste," Pompeo told reporters after a second day of meetings with North Korean vice-chairman Kim Yong-chol in New York.  

"Vice-chairman Kim Yong-chol is now planning to travel to Washington to deliver a personal letter from chairman Kim Jong-un," Pompeo told reporters, noting that there has been real progress, but much remains to be done.

A U.S. official told The Associated Press the high-stakes discussion on Thursday lasted a little more than two hours, until 11:25 a.m. ET, well before the scheduled end at 1:30 p.m. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the details of the meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Pompeo told reporters that the meeting hadn't ended abruptly, saying that they had covered all the material they planned to discuss.

Mike Pompeo says the U.S. is moving forward, hoping for historic achievement. 0:34

He said he believes North Korea is contemplating making a strategic shift, one that leaders weren't ready to make in the past.

"This will obviously be their decision," he said. "They'll have to choose a path that is fundamentally different than the one that their country has proceeded on for decades. It should not be to anyone's surprise that there will be moments along the way that this won't be straightforward."

He said it will take days and weeks to work through the issues, which involves dealing with decades-old challenges.

Earlier Thursday, Trump said the talks are going "very well," and that Pompeo is having "very good meetings."

Trump and Kim Jong-un had been scheduled to hold an unprecedented summit in Singapore on June 12. Disputes between Washington and Pyongyang led Trump to cancel the meeting, only to see a renewal of diplomatic efforts in recent days.

There were reports earlier on Wednesday that South Korean officials were noting "quite significant" differences between the United States and North Korea over denuclearization.

The United States has been demanding that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons program amid reports that it is close to being able to launch a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the United States.

Pyongyang has long argued that it needed nuclear weapons for its security.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo departs after meeting with North Korean envoy Kim Yong-chol in New York on Wednesday night. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

The New York meetings follow high-level conversations Pompeo held in North Korea in April and earlier in May and are intended to get negotiations between the two longtime adversaries back on track.

Kim Yong-chol, a close aide of Kim Jong-un and vice chairman of the ruling Workers' Party's Central Committee, is the most senior North Korean official to meet top U.S. officials for talks in the United States in nearly two decades.

In Pyongyang, Kim Jong-un welcomed visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the first meeting between a Russian official and Kim as head of state. Lavrov invited Kim to Russia, and called for a phased approach to denuclearization, including easing of international sanctions on North Korea.

According to a North Korean news agency, the two countries agreed to step up exchanges and co-operation.

U.S. seeking clarity on intentions

The United States, in return for North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons, could potentially loosen sanctions, leading to possible food and other aid to impoverished North Korea and improved ties with South Korea.

A senior state department official briefed reporters separately as Pompeo and Kim Yong-chol met late on Wednesday. The official, who asked not to be identified, said North Korea is "going to have to make clear what they are willing to do" in response to Washington's demands.

Trump, the official said, "can make a fly or no-fly decision any time he wants," referring to the possible Singapore summit.

If not enough progress is made to lead to a productive meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un, the official said, "we will ramp up the pressure on them and we'll be ready for the day that hopefully they are ready."

Talks are focusing on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, press secretary Sarah Sanders says. 0:21

The two Koreas have technically been at war for decades, even though the Korean War's military combat ended in 1953, because a peace agreement was never signed.

China, North Korea's main trading partner and a key ally, said it supported and encouraged the "emerging good faith" between the United States and North Korea.

Peace, not just denuclearization

"At the same time as working to achieve the goal of denuclearization, we should also build long-term and effective initiatives to keep peace on the Korean Peninsula," China's foreign ministry deputy director Hua Chunying said in Beijing.

Russia has appeared to be on the fringes of a flurry of diplomacy, but Lavrov's visit was a move to raise its profile in international efforts to ease tension on the Korean Peninsula, said Artyom Lukin, a professor at Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok.

"Moscow wants to be in the loop concerning the latest developments, especially with respect to the likely summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un," Lukin said.

"For its part, North Korea would like to have Russian support entering high-stakes negotiations with Washington."

With files from CBC News and The Associated Press