Kim sends right-hand man to US for pre-summit talks

The veteran official’s trip is another sign that preparations for the on-again, off-again on June 12

SEOULNorth Korean leader Kim Jong-un has dispatched one of his top aides to the US for talks ahead of his planned summit with US President Donald Trump next month, according to a person familiar with the issue who asked not to be named because the trip isn’t public.

Kim Yong-chol, North Korea’s former spy chief, would become the highest ranked official from the isolated nation to visit the US since 2000, when Pyongyang sent Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok to meet then-President Bill Clinton. Yonhap News Agency reported Yong-chol will meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with whom he dined in Pyongyang earlier this month.

The veteran official’s trip is another sign that preparations for the on-again, off-again on June 12 meeting in Singapore are moving forward. Just three days after Trump abruptly called off the unprecedented meeting in a letter to the North Korean leader, the president appeared to confirm the talks were back on.

Yong-chol accompanied Jong-un at all of his recent meetings with both Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, according to North Korean state-media reports. South Korea said yesterday it wasn’t aware of the trip by Yong-chol, who is vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee. He’s set to land in New York today on a flight from Beijing, Yonhap said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing that she has no information on Yong-chol’s visit.

“I truly believe North Korea has brilliant potential and will be a great economic and financial Nation one day,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Kim Jong-un agrees with me on this. It will happen!”

A delegation led by Sung Kim, US ambassador to the Philippines, is currently holding meetings with North Korean officials at the border village of Panmunjom. Kim Chang-son, another aide to the North Korean leader, arrived in Singapore late on Monday to discuss logistics and security arrangements for the planned summit, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported.

The US and North Korea are seeking common ground on the steps it would take for Jong-un to give up his nuclear weapons. The Trump administration has pushed for a quick timeline, while North Korea favours a phased approach.

The US has decided to hold off on implementing major new sanctions on North Korea while attempts to revive the summit are underway, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday. The White House was preparing to announce a ramped-up sanctions regime as soon as yesterday, but decided on Monday to indefinitely delay the measures while talks are ongoing, according to a US official the newspaper didn’t name.

South Korea’s Moon held a surprise two-hour meeting on Saturday with Jong-un on the border in a bid to keep the Trump summit on track. Moon said on Sunday that Kim requested the meeting, only the fourth ever by leaders of the two countries since the Korean War.

Moon could travel to Singapore for a three-way summit with Jong-un and Trump next month, Yonhap reported on Monday. The South Korean presidential office said later in a text message that Seoul is “just considering the possibility” of such a meeting and “at a working level.” — Bloomberg