A top North Korean official is set to meet President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in Washington later this week, according to four people familiar with the matter, signaling that a second summit between the two countries’ leaders could happen soon.
Kim Yong Chol, a top aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, is scheduled to be in Washington Friday as part of negotiations over their country’s nuclear program, according to three of the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations. Two of the people said his plans included a meeting with Trump. Asked for comment, a State Department spokesman said there were “no meetings to announce.”
An earlier round of talks between the officials, which was supposed to take place in November, was canceled, with the two sides unable to see eye-to-eye on the path forward.
The announcement of the first summit’s date came when Kim Yong Chol — a former North Korean spy chief involved in decades of nuclear talks — visited Trump at the White House last June. About 10 days after that visit, Trump and Kim Jong Un held their unprecedented summit in Singapore.
That Trump and Pompeo are planning to meet Kim Yong Chol suggests that talks between the U.S. and North Korea, which had stalled after Singapore, may be gaining momentum. The announcement of a date and place for a second summit could come as early as Saturday, South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported Thursday, citing an unidentified diplomatic source.
A crucial stumbling block has been North Korea’s insistence that it get relief from crippling economic sanctions as it takes steps toward giving up its nuclear weapons.
The U.S. has demanded the sanctions stay in place until Pyongyang’s nuclear program is fully dismantled. Pyongyang, meanwhile, has called for a step-by-step approach in which its efforts to roll back the program are met by incentives from Washington.
Pompeo and other officials have said repeatedly there would be a second summit, but refused to say when it would happen. In an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” broadcast on Sunday, Pompeo said the two sides were “working out the details.”
The U.S. and South Korea are discussing “corresponding measures” to reward North Korea’s steps toward denuclearization, South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha told a news conference in Seoul on Wednesday, suggesting details of a possible deal between Washington and Pyongyang were being worked out that could lay the ground for a second summit.
Kang said the allies were reviewing various packages of incentives. While Kang provided few details other than to say restarting stalled business projects were being discussed, the term can cover everything from sanctions relief to moves to formalize the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Officials from the CIA and North Korea’s United Front Department have since December met in the Panmunjom truce village on the border between the two Koreas to discuss steps North Korea could make to end its atomic ambitions — and others the U.S. could take in return — South Korea’s DongA Ilbo newspaper reported Thursday, citing an unidentified diplomatic source.
Koh Yu-hwan, who teaches North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said Kim Yong Chol’s visit is a strong indication that preparations are well underway for the second summit. Koh said North Korea had made clear what it’s willing to agree to and what it won’t accept, and the ball is now in Trump’s court.
“North Korea is waiting for the U.S. answers to its suggestions,” Koh said, adding that Kim is going to Washington “to hear the answer.”