A top North Korean official and the top US diplomat have in a round table discussion sat down for dinner in New York as President Trump and Kim Jong Un try to salvage prospects for a high-stakes nuclear summit.
The former military intelligence chief, Kim Yong Chol and one of the North Korean leader’s closest aides, landed mid-afternoon on an Air China flight from Beijing for the highest-level official North Korean visit to the United States in 18 years.
During his unusual visit, Kim Yong Chol had dinner for about an hour-and-a-half with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who travelled from Washington to see him.
The two planned a “day full of meetings” on Thursday, the White House said.
Their talks will be aimed at determining whether a meeting between Mr Trump and Kim Jong Un, originally scheduled for June 12 but later cancelled by Mr Trump, can be restored, US officials have said.
The talks come as preparations for the highly anticipated summit in Singapore were barreling forward on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, despite lingering uncertainty about whether it will really occur, and when.
As Mr Kim and Mr Pompeo were meeting in New York, other US teams were meeting with North Korean officials in Singapore and in the heavily fortified Korean Demilitarised Zone.
“If it happens, we’ll certainly be ready,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of the Singapore summit.
Regarding the date for the meeting, she added, “We’re going to continue to shoot for June 12th.”
We have put a great team together for our talks with North Korea. 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 29, 2018
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 international legitimacy the summit with Mr Trump would provide.
But there are lingering doubts on whether Mr Kim will ever fully relinquish his nuclear arsenal, which he may see as his only guarantee of survival in a region surrounded by enemies.
Mr Trump announced that Kim Yong Chol was coming to New York for talks with Mr Pompeo in a tweet on Tuesday in which he said he had a “great team” working on the summit.
That was a shift from last week, when Mr Trump announced in an open letter to Kim Jong Un that he had decided to “terminate” the summit following a provocative statement from the North.
Mr Pompeo, Mr Trump’s former CIA chief, has travelled to Pyongyang twice in recent weeks for meetings with Kim Jong Un, and has said there is a “shared understanding” between the two sides about what they hope to achieve in talks.
South Korean media speculated that Mr Pompeo could make a third trip to Pyongyang and that Kim Yong Chol was carrying a personal letter from Kim Jong Un and might push to travel to Washington to meet with Mr Trump.
North Korea’s mission to the United Nations in New York is its sole diplomatic presence in the United States.