Top North Korean to meet Pompeo ahead of Trump-Kim summit
A senior North Korean official was bound for New York for high-level talks with U.S. officials on Tuesday (May 29th) as preparations for a historic nuclear summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un gathered pace.
General Kim Yong Chol (centre), who is in charge of inter-Korean affairs for North Korea's ruling Workers' Party, arriving at the inter-Korea transit office in Paju on February 27th, 2017. (Photo: AFP/Korea Pool)
General Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the central committee of the Workers' Party and right-hand man to Kim, will meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York on Wednesday or Thursday, officials said.
Trump confirmed the general was on his way in a tweet and boasted that Washington would have a "great team" for the talks on resolving the old foes' nuclear standoff. The president still hopes the meeting will take place on June 12th in Singapore.
"Meetings are currently taking place concerning Summit, and more. Kim Young Chol, the Vice Chairman of North Korea, heading now to New York. Solid response to my letter, thank you!" Trump wrote.
Trump will also meet Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Washington on June 7th, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
"Since the president's May 24 letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the North Koreans have been engaging," she said.
"The United States continues to actively prepare for President Trump's expected summit with leader Kim in Singapore."
A spokesman for the North Korean mission to the United Nations said he was unable to confirm that the general was on his way to New York but added that "preparation for the summit is proceeding at the highest level."
The North Korean envoy landed at Beijing airport on Tuesday and was to meet with Chinese officials before traveling on to the United States on Wednesday, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
North Korean general Kim Yong Chol (left) also attended an inter-Korean summit at the truce village of Panmunjom last month. (Graphic: AFP)
"The secretary will be heading up to New York tomorrow and I believe returning some time on Thursday," she said. "We're still finalising exactly what these meetings will look like."
Trump briefly scrapped the talks last week, citing "open hostility" from the North, but since then both sides have dialed down the rhetoric and the process appears to be back on track.
On Sunday, U.S. negotiators, headed by Washington's ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, began meeting North Korean counterparts in the truce village of Panmunjom that pides the two Koreas.
"They plan to have additional meetings this week," Sanders said.
She said White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin and a U.S. team are separately coordinating logistics in Singapore for the expected summit.
Chung Sung-yoon, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said Kim Yong Chol would be the most senior North Korean on U.S. soil since Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok met then president Bill Clinton in 2000.
The general has played a front-seat role during recent rounds of diplomacy aimed at ending the nuclear stalemate on the Korean peninsula.
He sat next to Trump's daughter Ivanka, who is also a White House aide, during February's closing ceremony for the Winter Olympics in South Korea, an event that was seen as a turning point in the nuclear crisis.
He also accompanied Kim Jong Un on both of his recent trips to China to meet President Xi Jinping, and held talks with Pompeo when he travelled to Pyongyang./.