Top North Korean heads to US, Russian FM to visit Pyongyang

Lucy Bush
June 2, 2018

At Panmunjeom, the officials were thought to be discussing agenda items - North Korea's denuclearization in return for a security assurance from the US - for the summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, while a separate team met in Singapore to work out the logistics.

Led by Sung Kim, the USA ambassador to the Philippines and former U.S. ambassador to Seoul, the United States officials first met their counterparts including Choe Son-hui, North Korea's vice foreign minister, on Sunday. As Kim and Pompeo were meeting in NY, other US teams were meeting with North Korean officials in Singapore and in the heavily fortified Korean Demilitarized Zone.

Trump tweeted earlier that the senior North Korean official was en route to the USA, calling the visit a "solid response to my letter".

"Kim Yong-chol may be heading to the USA to finalize discussions that can not be done at the working-level talks", said a diplomatic source with knowledge of dealing with North Koreans.

Meanwhile, Russia announced Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit North Korea on Thursday and hold talks with his counterpart about the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

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Trump, who last week issued a letter canceling a meeting set for June 12 in Singapore, expressed optimism of a re-schedule in a tweet in which he confirmed that a North Korean official was en route to the United States.

Kim Yong Chol, a former North Korean spy chief and senior official, and his aide, Choe Kang Il, head of North Korea's Ministry of People's Security, are expected to meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the US this week.

Pompeo and Kim met during the secretary of state's two trips to Pyongyang in April and May. The North's arsenal now includes purported thermonuclear warheads and developmental long-range missiles potentially capable of reaching mainland US cities. He is considered to be Kim Jong-un's right-hand man and serves as the vice central committee chairman of the North's ruling Workers' Party.

But analysts say North Korea will be unwilling to cede its nuclear deterrent unless it is given security guarantees that the United States will not try to topple the regime.

It comes less than a week after Mr Trump wrote to Kim Jong-Un cancelling the summit, which was planned to take place in Singapore next month.

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North Korea's participation in February's Winter Olympics was part of a broader warming of relations between the rogue state and South Korea, which also helped make room for the planned talks between the USA and North Korea.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Kim is set to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after he arrives in NY.

While Kim Yong Chol's possible trip to the United States could further brighten the prospects for the summit, history shows that things could still crumble at the last minute even after an exchange of high-level officials. "As the Hermit Kingdom's black operations chief, Kim has had a bloody hand in some of the rogue nation's most notorious attacks on South Korea and even USA cyber targets", writes Fox News. During Saturday's inter-Korean summit, the Korean leaders agreed to "positively cooperate with each other as ever to improve (North Korea)-U.S. relations and establish (a) mechanism for permanent and durable peace".

It was at Kim that South Korean intelligence pointed the finger of blame when the Cheonan corvette was torpedoed in 2010, and when artillery units shelled a border island, killing four people.

There could be division under Kim within North Korea's hierarchy about the diplomatic approach to the Americans, according to Bennett.

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The talks are expected to continue this week. The United States stations 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War. The nuclear confrontation deepened in 2002, with the Bush administration accusing North Korea of running a clandestine uranium enrichment program in breach of a 1994 disarmament deal. He was linked by U.S intelligence to a cyber attack on Sony Pictures in 2014.

Other reports by Info About Network

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