A top North Korean nuclear envoy began talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and could also meet President Donald Trump at the White House on Friday during a visit aimed at clearing the way for a second U.S.-North Korea summit.
The diplomatic encounter with Kim Yong Chol, Pyongyang’s lead negotiator with the United States, marked a rare sign of potential movement in a denuclearization effort that has stalled since a landmark meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore last year.
Kim Yong Chol and Pompeo, with tight smiles, posed together for photographs at a Washington hotel before heading into the talks that could determine whether the two sides can make headway. There has been no indication of any narrowing of differences over U.S. demands that North Korea abandon a nuclear weapons program that threatens the United States or over Pyongyang’s demand for a lifting of punishing sanctions.
Hours before Kim Yong Chol’s arrival, Trump - who declared the day after the Singapore summit in June that the nuclear threat posed by North Korea was over - unveiled a revamped U.S. missile defense strategy that singled out the country as an ongoing and “extraordinary threat.”
Following his meeting with Pompeo, Kim Yong Chol, a hardline former spy chief, could also go to see Trump at the White House, a person familiar with the matter said.
The high-level North Korean visit could yield an announcement of plans for a second summit, which both Trump and Kim have expressed an interested in arranging.
Their first meeting produced a vague commitment by Kim to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but he has yet to take what Washington sees as concrete steps in that direction.
Pompeo had planned to meet Kim Yong Chol to discuss a second summit last November, but the meeting was postponed at the last moment.
On his last visit to Washington, Kim Yong Chol delivered a letter from Kim Jong Un to Trump that helped overcome obstacles in the way of the summit in Singapore.
CNN quoted a source familiar with the U.S.-North Korea talks as saying that Kim Yong Chol would be carrying a new letter for Trump.
North Korea, which has been developing nuclear and missile programs in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, has demanded Washington lift sanctions and declare an official end to the 1950-53 Korean War.