Top North Korean official heads to USA for pre-summit talks

His reported U.S.travel plans followed a recent diplomatic back-and-forth that began when Trump on Thursday abruptly backed away from the meeting, citing hostile comments by the North. Trump then announced the summit could still happen in Singapore on June 12, as initially scheduled, after North Korea issued an unusually conciliatory statement about his cancellation of the summit.

In Singapore, a separate team led by White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin met Tuesday with a North Korean delegation led by Kim Chang-son, a senior official at the State Affairs Commission, to arrange the logistics, sources said.

A team of US officials led by former USA nuclear negotiator Sung Kim began talks with North Korean officials at the Korean border village of Panmunjom on Sunday to set the agenda for the summit.

Kim Yong-chol, a vice chairman of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party's Central Committee, is traveling to NY and will meet with Pompeo "later this week", White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

North Korea's flurry of diplomatic activity following a torrid run in nuclear weapons and missile tests in 2017 suggests that Kim Jong Un is eager for sanctions relief to build his economy and the worldwide legitimacy the summit with Trump would provide.

The American president said the summit could go ahead as planned following a more appeasing statement from Pyongyang and productive talks with North Korean officials. He also attended the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February at the start of Kim Jong Un's charm offensive.

Moon, who has lobbied hard for nuclear negotiations between Trump and Kim Jong Um, held a surprise meeting with the North Korean leader Saturday in an effort to keep the summit alive. He also confirmed on Sunday that a US official team had arrived in the DPRK to talk about the preparation for talks. We're looking at June 12 in Singapore.

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Since that short-lived crisis, diplomats in both countries have conducted an intense flurry of negotiations, culminating on Thursday when Pompeo sat down in NY with Kim's number two, Kim Yong Chol.

On Sunday, the U.S. State Department said American and North Korean officials had met at Panmunjom.

While there have been a few instances in which countries were persuaded to abandon their nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief and compensation, none of the cases are directly applicable to North Korea, which has advanced its nukes further and with greater zeal than any of the others.

"Chairman Kim and I have agreed that the June 12 summit should be held successfully, and that our quest for the Korean Peninsula's denuclearisation and a perpetual peace regime should not be halted", Moon said.

Since the 1970s, the United States and South Korea have been holding a major summertime exercise called Ulchi Freedom Guardian that involves tens of thousands of troops. The North's arsenal now includes purported thermonuclear warheads and developmental long-range missiles potentially capable of reaching mainland US cities.

Their second meeting came after inter-Korean relations had chilled in recent weeks, with North Korea canceling a high-level meeting with Seoul over South Korea's participation in a two-week military exercise with the United States that ended last week. But there are lingering doubts on whether Kim will every fully relinquish his nuclear arsenal, which he may see as his only guarantee of survival in a region surrounded by enemies. South Korea's Defense Ministry said Tuesday there have been no discussions yet between Washington and Seoul on modifying the drills, which usually take place in August.

  • Megan Austin