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Trump confirms North Korean official en route to US to prepare for summit

The trip is part of a flurry of diplomacy as preparations gather pace for the on-again, off-again summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.

world Updated: May 29, 2018 22:27 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US North Korea summit,Donald Trump,Kim Jong Un
US President Donald Trump (AFP)

Kim Young Chol, the vice chairman of North Korea who is often called the right-hand man of Kim Jong-un, is reaching the US for talks, the White House has said in the first acknowledgement that preparations were on for President Donald Trump’s “expected” summit with the North Korean leader in Singapore.

Trump had cancelled the summit in a letter to Kim on May 24, accusing Pyongyang of “tremendous anger and open hostility.”

“The United States continues to actively prepare for President Trump’s expected summit with leader Kim in Singapore,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

She said Trump will meet Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in the White House on June 7, before the summit.

Kim Yong Chol, who will arrive on Tuesday will meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. They have met twice during Pompeo’s visits to Pyongyang, first as CIA director and then as the top American diplomat.

Trump tweeted: “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!”

Kim is a four-star general who serves as a vice chairman on the central committee of North Korea’s Workers’ Party and heads a government bureau that runs engagement with South Korea. He is also a former spy chief, accused by Seoul of masterminding deadly attacks on a South Korean navy ship and an island in 2010 that killed nearly 50 South Koreans. The US has linked him to the hacking of Sony Pictures’ computer networks in 2014 and has him on its list of sanctioned entities.

Kim’s visit to the US is the first by a high-ranking official since October 2000, when then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the present leader’s father, had despatched Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok to meet with then President Bill Clinton and deliver him a letter. Then secretary of state Madeline Albright had followed up by visiting Pyongyang and meeting the North Korean leader. The talks went nowhere.

A team of US officials headed by White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin is in Singapore working on logistics tied to the June 12 summit, Sanders said. Trump has indicated the meeting could take place later if not on June 12, and at some other location and that it could even be extended. They are working with a team of North Korean officials led by Kim Chang Son, who is said to be a sort of chief of staff to Kim.

American officials had complained of being stood up by the North Koreans earlier and had cited that as among reasons to suggest North Korea was not serious about the summit.

They also met over the weekend with North Korean counterparts in the demilitarized zone between two the Koreas. The White House press secretary said the US team consists of US ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim; director for Korea at the National Security Council Allison Hooker; and assistant secretary of defence for Asian and Pacific security affairs at the department of defence Randy Schriver. More meetings are planned for this week.

The present back and forth comes in the wake of President Trump’s sudden announcement cancelling the Singapore summit last week, blaming “anger” and “hostility” from North Korea.

He had held the door open for talks and Pyongyang reacted in a conciliatory fashion, asserting it was keen for the summit to be held as scheduled.

The former North Korean spy chief’s visit to the US could signal either that the lower-level diplomatic talks were deadlocked and needed higher-level intervention, according to Korea experts cited by The Wall Street Journal. Or, Kim Young Chol could be here to give final touches to the preparations for the summit.

First Published: May 29, 2018 17:28 IST