US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will pay a fresh visit to North Korea on Sunday and meet leader Kim Jong Un to push forward denuclearization efforts, the State Department said.
Pompeo, who is trying to arrange a new summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump, will also head to US allies Japan and South Korea, as well as North Korea’s chief ally China, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
It will be the fourth trip by Pompeo to the longtime US pariah amid American hopes of reaching an agreement to end North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
“I think it shows momentum that he is paying his fourth trip,” Nauert told reporters.
“Everybody recognizes that there is a ways to go,” she said, but added: “We feel confident enough to hop on a plane to continue these negotiations.”
The top US diplomat had announced last week that he was ready to return to North Korea after meeting the hardline communist state’s foreign minister on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
Pompeo will open his trip on Saturday in Tokyo, where he will meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has long championed a hard line on North Korea but recently said he was willing to meet Kim.
After the trip to Pyongyang, Pompeo will head later Sunday to Seoul, where he will meet President Moon Jae-in, a dove who has helped spearhead the reconciliation efforts with North Korea.
Nauert said Pompeo would head afterward to Beijing for meetings with unspecified officials.
Kim, who as leader has rarely traveled outside of North Korea, met in June in Singapore with Trump in the first-ever summit between the two countries that have never signed a peace treaty to formally end their 1950-53 war.
On Saturday, Trump lavished praise on Kim -- considered by human rights groups to be one of the world’s most repressive leaders -- and said they had fallen “in love” after the exchange of letters.
Trump paints rapprochement with North Korea as a signature foreign policy achievement, although critics question whether Pyongyang has taken any firm action.
The United States has nonetheless insisted on maintaining tight UN sanctions against North Korea during the diplomatic drive, while Beijing has said it is time to start easing sanctions.