Is North Korea closer to negotiating?

CNN national security analyst discusses current relations between U.S. & North Korea after President Trump's gridiron dinner comments.

Posted: Mar 11, 2018 10:24 AM
Updated: Mar 11, 2018 10:40 AM

Kim Jong Un's meeting with South Korean officials in Pyongyang earlier this week has given a rare insight into the North Korean leader's style and hospitality.

US officials will be poring over the details as President Donald Trump prepares for perhaps his most high-stakes diplomatic encounter yet: a meeting with Kim at a venue to be decided sometime in the next seven weeks.

On Monday in Pyongyang, the North Korean leader rolled out the red carpet for his South Korean visitors, including National Intelligence chief Suh Hoon and head of National Security Chung Eui-Yong.

Kim treated them to regional dishes including North Korean hotpot and cold noodles, according to a Blue House official. The specialties were amply accompanied by local booze, another administrative source who had official knowledge of the meeting said.

Bottles of wine, liquor made of ginseng and Pyongyang soju -- a Korean spirit -- "kept coming," the source said. Trump, who is teetotal, would likely avoid in this particular facet of North Korean hospitality.

During their meeting, Kim, who is thought to be in his early 30s, reportedly made lighthearted remarks about how he is viewed outside North Korea.

Kim, repeatedly derided as "Little Rocket Man" by Trump, was "very aware" of his image, the official said, and reacted to comments made about him in a "relaxed" manner by joking about himself from time to time.

At one of the two dinners he shared with the South Koreans, Kim reportedly said that as his country's missile tests had caused his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, to call early national security briefings, he would put a halt to them "so he will not lose sleep any more."

Should he find himself in Pyongyang, Trump, who has spent the last year insulting Kim, could add to the jovial atmosphere -- he has also recently been experimenting with self-deprecating humor. In a speech at the annual Gridiron dinner Trump poked fun at himself and members of his administration.

During this week's visit, the South Korean officials recounted that Kim was the first to tackle sensitive topics, including the resumption of annual joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States -- which had been postponed during the Winter Olympics, a Blue House official said.

"This is when we knew the efforts of North and South Korea taken after the Moon Jae-in administration began had paid off," said one participant of the North Korea visit.

The visitors reportedly did not encounter the minders who are usually assigned to visitors in the North and were free to move about on the premises of the hotel, one South Korean official added.

How Trump caught his White House and the world by surprise

The rare face-to-face encounter with Kim will have given US and South Korean officials invaluable intelligence on the leader, his personality and potentially his negotiating style.

The South Korean delegation's encounters with Kim are the first high-profile meetings with the young leader. Former basketball star Dennis Rodman met him on an unofficial visit to the reclusive country in 2014.

During that visit, one of at least four Rodman has made, the former Chicago Bulls player sang "Happy Birthday" to the North Korean leader.

The notoriously reclusive Kim, who rarely receives visitors and is not known to have traveled outside of North Korea since taking power in 2011, has spent the past year ramping up his country's missile and nuclear weapons development programs, in open defiance of the international community.

Opinion: For Trump, a meeting with Kim is the ultimate test

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