N Korea’s top official flies to US to discuss summit

SEOUL: A senior North Korean official is headed to New York to discuss an upcoming summit, US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday, the latest indication that an on-again-off-again meeting between Trump and North Korea’s leader may go ahead next month.
“We have put a great team together for our talks with North Korea,” Trump said in a Twitter post. “Meetings are currently taking place concerning Summit, and more. Kim Young (sic) Chol, the Vice Chairman of North Korea, heading now to New York. Solid response to my letter, thank you!”
Kim Yong Chol (pictured), vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, was scheduled to fly to the United States on Wednesday after speaking to Chinese officials in Beijing, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said, citing an unidentified source.
The talks indicate that planning for the unprecedented summit on curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme, initially scheduled for June 12, is moving ahead after Trump called it off last week in a letter to the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un.
A day later, Trump said he had reconsidered and officials from both countries were meeting to work out details.
Kim Yong Chol will be the most senior North Korean official to meet top officials for talks
in the United States since Jo Myong Rok, a marshal, met then-president Bill Clinton at the White House in 2000.
Kim Yong Chol, previously chief of the Reconnaissance General Bureau, a top North Korean military intelligence agency, coordinated the North Korean president’s two meetings with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in April and May.
He and Kim Jong Un’s sister were the only North Korean officials to attend the first inter-Korean summit in April.
Analysts believe the United States is trying to determine whether North Korea is willing to agree to sufficient steps toward denuclearisation to allow a summit to take place.
North Korean leader Kim’s de facto chief of staff, Kim Chang Son, meanwhile, flew to Singapore, the scheduled site of the meeting, via Beijing late on Monday, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported.
At the same time, a “pre-advance” US team was in Singapore to meet North Koreans.
In Singapore, a team of US officials was at a hotel on the resort island of Sentosa but declined to comment.
North Korea has faced years of isolation and economic sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes since it conducted its first nuclear test in 2006.
But events have moved quickly since Kim Jong Un made a conciliatory New Year’s address at the end of last year, following months of sharply rising tension and war-like rhetoric between Trump and Kim.
The latest flurry of diplomacy began on Saturday, when Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in held a surprise meeting at the border village of Panmunjom, during which they agreed the North Korea-US summit must be held.
On Sunday, the US State Department said American and North Korean officials had met at Panmunjom.
Sung Kim, the former US ambassador to South Korea and current ambassador to the Philippines, led the US delegation, an official said.
Sung Kim will meet North Korean Foreign Ministry official Choi Sun Hee again on Wednesday on the border, Yonhap reported, citing a diplomatic source, adding that the agenda for the Trump-Kim summit would be roughly worked out.
While likely substantive, those discussions could be upstaged by any talks between Kim Yong Chol and officials in the United States, said Evans Revere, a former senior diplomat who dealt with North Korea under US president George W Bush.
The future of North Korea’s nuclear programme, which has been a source of international tension for decades, US security guarantees and coordination for a Trump-Kim summit are likely to be at the top of the agenda, analysts said.
— Agencies