Donald Trump has confirmed that a top North Korean official is heading to New York for talks on an upcoming summit between the US president and Kim Jong Un.
President Trump said in a tweet that Kim Yong Chol was travelling to New York as part of ongoing meetings between the two countries to arrange the summit on the future of North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
South Korean media earlier reported that Kim Yong Chol’s name was on the passenger list for a fight Wednesday from Beijing to New York.
President Trump tweeted: “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!”
Kim Yong Chol is a former military intelligence chief and now a vice chairman of the North Korean ruling party’s central committee.
He would be the highest-level North Korean official to travel to the United States since 2000, when late National Defence Commission First Vice Chairman Jo Myong Rok visited Washington, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has travelled to Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, twice in recent weeks for meetings with Kim Jong Un, after which he said there was a “shared understanding” between the two sides about what they hope to achieve in the summit.
It remained unclear whom Kim Yong Chol will meet in the United States.
Meanwhile, a team of American diplomats involved in preparatory discussions was seen leaving a Seoul hotel on Tuesday, but it was unclear whether they went to Panmunjom, a village that straddles the border inside the Demilitarised Zone, to continue talks with their North Korean counterparts following their first meeting on Sunday.
The US officials are led by Sung Kim, the US ambassador to Manila, who formerly was the US ambassador to Seoul and a top negotiator with North Korea in past nuclear talks.
The US-led United Nations Command cancelled a press tour of Panmunjom scheduled for Wednesday, saying the decision was related to security preparations to accommodate the US-North Korea talks there.
There will be no similar media events at the village until after June 12, the possible date of the summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un, according to the command.
South Korean media also reported that a North Korean delegation arrived in Singapore on Monday night for likely summit preparations with US officials.
Seoul did not confirm reports that the North Korean officials were headed by Kim Chang Son, Kim Jong Un’s close associate, and that his American counterpart would likely be White House deputy chief of staff for operations Joe Hagin.
Ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk also did not say whether Seoul knew of any US plans regarding Kim Yong Chol’s visit, such as whether he and Mr Pompeo will meet.
President Trump withdrew from the planned summit with Kim Jong Un last Thursday, citing hostile North Korean comments, but has since said the meeting in Singapore could still happen as originally scheduled on June 12.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has lobbied hard for nuclear negotiations between President Trump and Mr Kim, met with the North Korean leader in a surprise meeting on Saturday in an effort to keep the summit alive.
In their second meeting in a month, Mr Moon said Mr Kim expressed willingness to co-operate to end confrontation and work toward peace for the sake of a successful summit with President Trump.
But Mr Kim also said he was unsure whether he could trust the United States over its promise to end hostile policies against North Korea and provide security assurances if the country does abandon its nuclear weapons, according to Mr Moon.